World’s Smartest Insect

As a student of entomology, the Atlas Obscura article by Dan Nosowitz on Smartest Bug In The World caught my eye. Though, I studied lot about insect pests and their biology but nowhere this topic was covered, that I recall after several decades.

Some insects can count, recognize human faces, even invent languages.

– Dan Nosowitch on Atlas Obscura

According to the article, insect intelligence is reportedly an under-studied field. Insects, in general, are reportedly considered “smartest” than others like great apes, dolphins, and the octopus, because possess qualities like “problem solving, advanced communication, social skills, adaptability, and memory, and also physical traits like the comparative size of the brain or number of neurons in the brain”.

They only have one purpose in life, and that’s to find their host and feed on their blood. They don’t have to do anything sophisticated so they don’t need very high brain functions.

– Lars Chittka, behavioral entomologist (source: Atlas Obscura)

Insects are extremely modular creatures, not like us at all: the easiest way to understand an insect’s nervous system is that an insect has many different sub-brains in different parts of its body, which feed into and can be controlled by a slightly larger central brain but can actually also operate separately. The antennae of an insect has its own brain. So does the mouth, the eyes, and each leg. Even if the central brain of an insect stops working, its legs still have their own sub-brains, and can keep walking.

According to Marc Srour, a biologist who specializes in invertebrates, the THREE smartest insects are “the bees, the ants, and the cockroaches” which are reportedly most studied insects of all.

Bees are the Smartest Insect

Unlike other insects, honey bees are the social insects. Its smartness are “legion: the insects are able to recognize and distinguish between human faces, a surprising trait given that it isn’t really necessary for their survival. the bees can count too. The following are a few characteristics of bees highlighted in the article:

  • Bees are capable of observation, learning, and memory to solve problems.
  • “Every bee is entirely flower-naive at the beginning of its foraging career,” says Chittka, meaning that the bee has no instinctive knowledge about how to score nectar or pollen from flowers.
  • Bees can learn new strategies for getting food from other bees, something few other insects are capable of doing.
  • But perhaps the best-known and most insane bit of intelligence from bees is what’s known as the “waggle dance.” This is a method of communication that the bee uses to tell other bees in the hive the location of a flower or source of food.

The honey bee dance is unique insomuch as they’re using symbols. No other animal besides humans has that.

– Lars Chittka, behavioral entomologist (source: Atlas Obscura)

These behaviors are far above and beyond what most people would assume an insect is capable of. Without exaggerating, the honey bee is capable of advanced symbolic communication, language, facial recognition, number use, observation and mimicry, understanding of rules, and high-level problem-solving. They are, in some senses, significantly smarter than many mammals.