Can bees play soccer?

By Andy Welch

The bee’s ability to grasp this novel task is a big score for insect intelligence, demonstrating that they’re even more complex thinkers than we thought. Moreover, they did it all not just despite their tiny brains—but because of them.


A group of scientists, who possibly had too much time on their hands, decided to test whether bees could learn to play soccer. They tried to teach bees other skills, but the soccer training was easily the most interesting. They first needed a coach to train them, so they got a fake plastic bee and glued it on the end of a stick. They then used the plastic bee to nudge a ball into a little goal, and whenever a goal was scored, the real bee was given some sugar.

The bees soon learned the association and quickly picked up the new skill. Whenever they were presented with a ball and a goal, they would roll the ball into the goal in the expectation of a sugar treat.

Once they had trained a few bees, they no longer needed the coach-on-a-stick as they could train new bees just by letting them watch the ones who had already been trained.

They then tried mixing things up a bit by using different coloured balls, but the bees were quite happy with these changes and continued sending the balls into the back of the net.

Unfortunately, the experiments stopped at this point, so we don’t yet know whether bees will take the next step and play a competitive match.


A further experiment looked at their ability to remember the new skills over a period of time, and bees were found to remember the skill pretty effectively even after three days. 3 days might not seem like much, but given the average lifespan of a worker bee is only about six weeks, this is the equivalent of a human remembering something for five years, so it’s still pretty impressive.

Scientists also decided to test the effects of a gut bacteria called Lactobacillus Apis, found in both bees and humans and linked to better memory. Surprisingly they found that when added to their diet, the bees’ memory was increased by over 20%.

This could help develop memory supplements, but it also opens up the possibility of testing products that might negatively affect memory. For example, one recent study showed that drinking sugary drinks in adolescence might have a negative impact on memory in adults.

So it turns out bees are excellent at learning and remembering new skills and provide an ideal test environment for research that could potentially improve our health.


Andy Welch is a data and analytics specialist, who provides technology and data science support to The World Bee Project. This includes helping to manage the World Hive Network data sets as well as providing analytics support for The World Bee Project's global research projects