Friday 23 February 2018

Foxes could teach new breed of 'footballer bees' how to sting

The survival instinct of the species is so strong that it doesn't matter who gets shafted once the blame is shifted

A study has shown bumblebees can teach each other how to score
A study has shown bumblebees can teach each other how to score "goals" with a tiny ball, displaying a learning ability never before seen in insects Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Last week the Queen Mary University of London released a video of an experiment to determine whether bees could be taught to play football.

Previous research suggested that bees could solve a range of difficult tasks but, in this case, scientists trained the bees to score goals in return for food and it was discovered that they learned more efficiently by watching previously-trained bees and they could even improve the technique of the original demonstrators.

The bees push a ball towards a target, get rewarded, and can solve such a relatively complex problem "despite having brains the size of sesame seeds". Which is where many of the modern players come in.

The follow-up experiment has yet to be revealed but a true test of a bee's ability to be a footballer would come from what they would do away from the environment of scoring goals and the lengths they will go to survive.


Honey bees, for example, are unlikely to make good footballers because they know that once they deliver their sting, they will hurt the person who is stung but will also die themselves.

The idea of putting your own body on the line for a cause would be horrifying to many a modern player who would simply give up the nest rather than fight to protect it once they knew they would be all right themselves.

It would, too, be interesting to see whether a nest that produced a superb amount of honey, way over and above expectation, in a particular season could put in the same amount of effort next time.

For a successful transition to football, however, the bees would need to get fat off their own honey while convincing themselves they were still putting in the same amount of effort as last year.

Even those bees that had done little with the rest of their lives until that freakishly good honey season, started to believe their own buzz and, suddenly, the nest was in danger of producing no honey at all as the worker bees put their feet up.

The crucial factor in this part of the experiment would be to see if the bees were fully capable of blame deflection and, like most footballers, be ruthless b******* who will let anybody take the fall once they don't have to take responsibility themselves, no matter how much that person had done for them in the past.

They could, perhaps, be nurtured to go completely against their nature which is meant to protect the queen and, instead, lay the blame firmly at her door.

As with last week's experiment, such passing of the buck would become more refined to the point where other species like wasps - or journalists in the case of real footballers - got to hear about the bees' unhappiness with their queen as, in public, the bees continue to pledge their full support and loyalty.

Bees may have been in other nests in the past where similar events have taken place and the cross-pollination means certain bees will have already learned the most-efficient method of getting their way which they could pass on to create a chasm in the nest.

In these circumstances, having a close relationship with the bee-keeper would be essential for the bees to manipulate the situation in order to get what they want, even if they are the main cause of the problems.

Such evolution would require the bees to allow the bee-keeper to take an inordinate amount of credit for the unexpected record season of honey production and create the perception that they are a predominant part of the success story rather than just people who happened to own the bees.

It's at this point in the current disappointing season of honey production where the bees could be taught to get their point across of how the queen's tactics to produce honey have changed since last season and some of the poor bees with sesame-seed-sized brains are a little bit confused.

Rather than simply put full effort behind the queen, it might be best if the bee-keeper could find a new queen rather than risk her "losing the nest".

This point of the process would be beyond the bees' control but, if the bee-keeper, much like the bees themselves, is spineless, they'll take the easy option.

The bee-keeper could, for example, explain that the queen will be here next year no matter what happens and that it's up to the unhappy bees to get over themselves and go back to what made them successful in the first place.

Instead, the bee-keeper is more likely to seize on the path of least resistance because it's far more difficult to replace all of the bees when they could just kill the queen to keep the others happy.


The final part of the bee-to-footballer evolution comes with mealy-mouthed words of praise from the bees - or mumble-bees, if you will - for the departed queen as they collectively shrug their wings from behind a social media screen and, in all likelihood, then produce a performance in front of the cameras to survive for another season.

The bees will return to previous effort levels with enough honey to justify their existence and convince the bee-keeper that their action to replace the queen was justified.

It might seem difficult but if scientists can teach bees to score goals in an experiment, the next part of their football evolution to sting anybody except themselves can't be far away.

Failing that, if they need a perfect illustration of how to throw somebody overboard in order to save themselves, they could just allow the bees to study the Foxes.

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