It is a level of cognitive complexity and cross use of multiple senses never before identified in an insect that was discovered by a team of researchers who analyzed the bumblebees, insects that resemble bees that are considered among the most important pollinators in nature.
The researchers were able to demonstrate, through laboratory experiments, that these flying insects are able to recognize objects through sight and touch, a capability, called “multimodal recognition”, which was believed to belong only to a few other animals, outside of humans.
The bumblebee brain is naturally much less developed than that of a human being: with less than a million neurons, however, it is able to create mental images of observed objects just as humans do, using information that comes from more than one sense.
This means that the brain of this small insect is able to create mental representations of the world around it.
This is a “remarkable discovery”, as described by the researchers Gerhard von der Emde and Theresa Burt de Perera who carried out the study: “These small invertebrates with very different brain structures from vertebrates are able to experience an object in one sensory mode and then recognize it with another.
An example of multimodal recognition lies in the case in which a human being recognizes a backpack even if only touching it thanks to the fact that he has seen such an object before. To perform what appears to be a simple action, the brain must create a mental representation of the object based on the information obtained in the past through sight and that obtained through touch.
This ability has been recognized, in addition to humans, only in primates, mice, dolphins and a single species of fish.
This, among other things, could also explain how bumblebees find flowers to pollinate even in very dim light or even darkness.