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Bees don’t just flit randomly from flower to flower. Research has taught us that bees are more complicated than that. And they may actually have a grasp of some pretty abstract concepts, like... time!

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It’s tempting to think of bees as just flitting around randomly from flower to flower, not really thinking things through, and counting on the flowers to provide. But research has taught us that bees are more complicated than that.

Not only is there a method to the way they go about their business, but they may actually have a grasp of some pretty abstract concepts. Like time. Back in the early 20th century, a Swiss scientist named August Forel noticed that bees were attracted to the sweet things he put out on his breakfast table each morning.

They would show up every day at the same time in search of a handout. You would think they were following the sweet smell, but weirdly enough, the bees came at the same time, even on those days when he wasn’t serving breakfast. So, they seemed to be telling time.

Which basically means they’ve transcended their innocent and carefree existence and joined humans in delightful things like jet lag and getting in trouble for being late. But it’s hard to know just based on how promptly bees arrive for breakfast, whether they have a great sense of time or are just using the sun’s position to calculate when they can grab a pastry from the buffet table. So through the years, scientists have devised studies to help them learn if bees can in fact, tell time.

One of the ways bees could tell time is by following the sun and its warmth. So in a study from the 1920s, scientists kept bees in a place with constant light and temperature while offering food at the same time each day. And the bees would still show up like clockwork 24 hours after the first meal, searching for the next.

This ruled out bees using the sun for keeping time. But the sun has something else to offer: radiation, which light and warmth are a type of. But scientists at the time hypothesized that some “unknown solar radiation” that could cross walls was at play.

So, what if bees were using that to tell time? Another scientist wanted to test this hypothesis by taking the bees to another place where they would still be awake but with no sun around. A potential way to test this is by flying bees to another time zone where the sun rose later in the day.

So scientists booked a transatlantic ticket for the little critters and flew them from Paris to New York. But to prepare them before their long flight, researchers put some bees in a temperature and light-controlled wooden chamber in Paris and taught them to look for sugar water at 24-hour intervals. Once the bees figured out when they could expect a meal at the same time every day, researchers flew them across the Atlantic and put them in similar conditions to the wooden chamber in Paris.

They found that even in New York, the bees showed up to feast on sugar water, just at a slightly different time because they got a slight jet lag. So these tiny creatures have a huge capacity for abstract things, like time! And it means that bees don’t just flit randomly from flower to flower.

They can also remember at what time to do things. They can make plans. And they don’t even need calendars or reminder apps like some of us humans do.

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