Ants are renowned for being able to carry 50 times their own weight, which is impressive until you realize that bees can easily tote 122 times their own weight. Oh, and they can fly, too. In the air, they can carry their own weight in pollen, and while bees typically forage between 1 and 3 miles from the hive, experiments show that they can find their way home from 8 miles away.
Which makes them officially more intelligent than the average person with a dead smartphone.
And let's talk about bee flight for a minute. Bee aerodynamics actually sucks pretty hard. Because defying gravity takes a lot of energy, being streamlined and efficient is a must, which is why most other flying animals try to cut through the air as cleanly as possible. Stupid fat bees don't really give a shit about any of that. Their wings don't move at the same time, the delicate mechanisms propelling a bee through the air aren't even in sync and they fly clumsily and in a way that burns a lot of energy.
Richard Bomphrey via Sciencedaily.com
Does anyone else hear cartoony tuba music when they see this picture, or is that just us?
The crazy thing? They somehow make it work for themselves. Despite being poorly designed, hovering tanker trucks, bees can make as many as a hundred stops before heading home and can travel nearly 40 miles on one belly full of honey. The most fuel-efficient car in the world can get 170 miles per gallon. Give a bee a gallon of honey and he could make it nearly 5 million miles.
Most insects just shut down or die when it gets cold, because the ability to thermoregulate is typically a mammalian trait. But bees have worked out an ingenious heating system for themselves, as well as the whole hive. These industrious bugs can crank up the thermostat by as much as 35 degrees Celsius. In times of cold, bees can disengage their wings and turn on just their wing muscles to warm up. They have a neutral gear that lets them rev up the engine for heat -- it's like running in place without moving your legs. The ability to control their temperature means that bees can forage when it's still too cold for competitors and predators, and it also allows them to heat their hives in the winter to keep them cozy even in freezing temperatures, effectively acting like live mini heaters. And if it gets too hot during the summer, a few of the workers will line up and flap their wings to fan everyone, becoming living ceiling fans.
But that's not the only thing our feisty flower fondlers do with their command over ambient temperatures. When bees face an overwhelming threat, like the dreaded Asian giant hornet, their normal defenses are useless. Their small stingers are not strong enough to pierce the hornet's exoskeleton. So instead, the bees will Zerg rush the offending hornet with a technique called balling. By encapsulating the invader in a living sphere of sweaty, writhing bodies, the bees can smother it by cranking up the heat and the carbon dioxide. With 500 gyrating bees all clumped together, they'll raise the temperature to 117 degrees Fahrenheit, literally cooking the wasp. Alone, an individual bee is almost helpless, but when they combine in Voltron-like fashion, they become a living microwave oven. Balling ... it's not just for hustlers and porn stars anymore.
A. Ugajin et al, PLoS One via National Geographic
"Speaking of porn, we do freelance merkin work, too."
We think of insects as tiny little automatons programmed to perform a task. They're too small to think. They cannot reflect on the world around them. They likely have a very limited memory. And certainly they don't possess the psychological depth needed for emotions. They're just a bunch of spinning, biting and stinging dummies. Dumb, dumb asshole dummies.
Man, your mom must really hate you.
However, new research is turning our conception of intelligence on its head.
Although bees are tiny, they have "the most densely packed gray matter of any animal" in the world. This compact little brain has given them the ability to count up to four and remember those numbers later on. Four might not seem like a lot (in fact it isn't), but they're the only bugs who can do anything close to counting. Bees also beat supercomputers when it comes to solving the traveling salesman problem.
"The answer is four. Now fuck off so I can do my job!"
We like to think that bees are mindless, identical drones, but new studies suggest that they have different personalities and emotions. Some buzz jockeys are thrill seekers who are more willing to take risks than their supposedly identical siblings. Other studies have shown that bees become pessimistic and get depressed when scientists torment them. Pessimism was thought to be a trait reserved for "higher" animals: "You can't be pessimistic if you don't have an inner life." And if they can despair, does that mean that they can hope, too? If you can be pessimistic, doesn't that mean that you can also be optimistic? It's a little scary to think that these tiny creatures might have aspirations and dreams. Fortunately, researchers have figured out how to strip bees of all hope to leave them despondent wrecks. Chalk up another win for science.