Social insects - ancient civilizations?

6 June 2024
Start time 
4:00 pm
Doctorate Program in Cognitive and Brain Sciences, CIMeC
Target audience: 
UniTrento alumni
University community
UniTrento staff
Online – Registration required
Registration email: 
Registration deadline: 
6 June 2024, 12:00
Contact person: 
Matteo De Matola, Davide Mazzaccara, Elisa Pasquini
+39 0464 808617
LARS CHITTKA, MSc, PhD, Dr habil, FLS, FRES, FRSB University of London

The behavioural repertoires of social insects, their sophisticated social organisation and architectures and their foraging specialisations are unrivalled in the animal kingdom with the exception of the human species. Historically, however, these innovations have been regarded as “just innate” – as having been the result of evolutionary trial-and-error processes, with no element of learning, insight or culture. Recent work on the social learning capacities of bees call this simplistic view into question. Bumblebees do not just learn flower preferences from knowledgeable individuals – they can also learn object manipulation and puzzle-box opening techniques by observation. Some of their social learning feats even fulfil the basic criteria of cumulative culture, otherwise found only in primates. This makes it at least cognitively plausible that some of the most remarkable behavioural accomplishments of social insects might, at least near their evolutionary roots, have been the results of individual innovation and subsequent social learning, and only later have become cemented into innate behaviours.