Bees enjoy playing by rolling balls

A research study published in the journal Animal Behaviour found that bees are not mindless robots but are probably sentient beings who like to play games, specifically roll balls for no apparent reason other than it is fun. In the study bumblebees were given the opportunity to roll small wooden balls around despite no apparent benefit in finding food. They took the opportunity and appeared to enjoy the activity.

Bees enjoy playing with balls apparently
Bees enjoy playing with balls apparently. Image: Samadi Galpayagne’s team.

In line with human behaviour and the behaviour of other mammals and birds, younger bees rolled more balls than older bees. Also, male bees rolled the balls for longer than females which is in line with their work inside the hive.

The leader of the study, Samadi Galpayagne, a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London, said: “They approach and manipulate these ‘toys’ again and again. Despite their little size and tiny brains, they are more than small robotic beings. They may actually experience some kind of positive emotional states, even if rudimentary.”

She believes that findings have implications for the sentience of insects and therefore their welfare.

Professor Lars Chittka, the author of The Mind of Bees said: “This research provides a strong indication that insect minds are far more sophisticated than we might imagine”.

The Times journalist, Rhys Blakeley, who reported on the study said that ball rolling might be an effective form of training to hone pollen gathering skills and to move dead bees in the hive.

If it is training, it is equally impressive as it indicates a rational thought process. Or perhaps, if I was thinking less optimistically, the bees might have thought they were moving dead bees when they rolled those wooden balls.

If that is the case, it does support the idea that bees are little robots and mindless drones.

Separately, in an earlier study other scientists concluded that flies could feel pain indicating sentience. Insects are animals.


In a 2012 declaration from Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, it was stated that ‘humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness’. In other words, other animals can be self-conscious at least to a certain extent which means to be aware of their own existence.

Since 2016 insects have demonstrated that they pass a new definition for consciousness.

Functionally insects brains are similar to those of humans. Bumblebess are aware and capable of learning new tasks. They can be trained to complete tasks which are not necessarily natural to them such as dragging a ball into a circle. Note: this may in fact be more natural than stated as they move dead bees in hives.

Bees appear to learn by observation but are restricted to ‘naturally encountered tasks’ (Prindle Post website reporting on a study led by Dr. Olli Loukola).

It is believed that bees and other insects are self-aware and conscious to a certain extent. More work is need but humans should be aware of this when they swat an insect to death.

What does the insect feel at that moment?

Below are some more pages on insects:

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