English schoolkids publish study on bees (with a little help from adults)

First, American boomer parents found they had to ask their kids to program their TiVos. Now, in what could be a first, a group of 25 English schoolkids – aged 8-10 – has had its scientific study of bumblebees published in the December 22 edition of a science journal, the Royal Society’s Biology Letters.

What’s next? Kids running for political office? We can only dream …

But back to the science study by these 25 awesome British school kids, which is called Blackawton bees. It focused on bumblebees’ ability to recognize patterns and color.

Back when they conducted the study, the children were attending Blackawton Primary School in Devon, England. Amy and Ben, who came up with the idea for it, are now 11 and 12. The students collaborated with University College of London’s Dr. Beau Lotto on the project. And, with her help, they wrote the scientific paper, too.

Jim Cane on flower pastures built just for bees

In the paper, they explain that they were trying to figure out how bees find their food. In other words, “…whether bees could learn to use the spatial relationships between colours to figure out which flowers had sugar water in them and which had salt water in them.”

To find out more, the kids created a pretty complicated setup – a kind of lightbox ‘maze’ with lights that could change color. The ‘maze’ wouldn’t allow the bees to associate a food reward with a specific color — only a combination of colors. Here’s an excerpt from their study.

The bees could not just learn to go to the colour of the flower. Instead, they had to learn to go to one colour (blue) if it was surrounded by the opposite colour (yellow), but also to go to the opposite colour (yellow) if it was surrounded by blue. We also wanted to know if all the bees solved the puzzle in the same way. If not, it would mean that bees have personality (if a bee goes to the blue flower every time, it tells us that it really likes blue).

As it turns out, not all bees solved the puzzle in the same way. But all the bees seemed to be able to handle the complexity of it: in the end, the kids (and scientist) concluded that bumblebees use a combination of color and spatial relationships in deciding which color of flower to forage from.

Dr. Lotto additionally noted, “We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before.”

Go kids!

December 22, 2010

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Beth Lebwohl

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