City dwellers can often be accused of being condescending towards so-called ‘country bumpkins’.
But now a study suggests that bees who live in the city may actually gain an intelligence advantage over their rural equals.
Researchers measured the brain and body size of 335 bees from 89 species across Europe and North America.
They found that bees who live in urban environments, such as cities, tend to have bigger brains relative to their body size.
The team, led by scientists at the Doñana Biological Station in Spain, said this is the first evidence of the ‘cognitive buffer’ theory in insects.
And this suggests that larger brains allow animals to adapt their behaviour in a changing environment.
Writing in the journal Biology Letters, they said this is important to understand due to the rapid conversion of natural habitats to urban spaces.
A study suggests that bees who live in the city may actually gain an intelligence advantage over their rural equals
Researchers found that bees who live in urban environments, such as cities, tend to have bigger brains relative to their body size
‘Our analyses revealed that bee species mainly found in urban habitats had larger brains relative to their body size than those that tend to occur in forested or agricultural habitats,’ they said.
‘Additionally, urban bees exhibited larger body sizes and, consequently, larger absolute brain sizes.
‘Since urban environments exhibit dynamic challenges, including novel resources and changing human disturbances, a large brain may provide the cognitive flexibility to exploit these new resources while avoiding risks.’
They added that bees and other insects have long been thought to possess ‘the most basic types of learning’ due to their miniature brain.
But recent studies have shown that they have ‘sophisticated’ thinking skills that involve the use of tools and social learning.
There is also evidence that species with larger brains relative to their body size have enhanced mental capacities, they said.
A study from earlier this year found that warmer springs are causing British bees to wake up earlier – threatening the pollination of crops such as apples and pears.
Wild bees, such as bumblebees, emerged from their nests an average of 6.5 days earlier for every 1C rise in temperature caused by climate change.
As spring starts earlier and bees emerge closer to the start of the year, they may lose sync with the plants on which they depend, meaning there may be less food for them to consume.
This means bees may not have the energy to pollinate crops effectively, or may miss crop blossom completely, researchers from the University of Reading warned.