Social learning in insects--from miniature brains to consensus building

Curr Biol. 2007 Aug 21;17(16):R703-13. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.06.012.


Communication and learning from each other are part of the success of insect societies. Here, we review a spectrum of social information usage in insects--from inadvertently provided cues to signals shaped by selection specifically for information transfer. We pinpoint the sensory modalities involved and, in some cases, quantify the adaptive benefits. Well substantiated cases of social learning among the insects include learning about predation threat and floral rewards, the transfer of route information using a symbolic 'language' (the honeybee dance) and the rapid spread of chemosensory preferences through honeybee colonies via classical conditioning procedures. More controversial examples include the acquisition of motor memories by observation, teaching in ants and behavioural traditions in honeybees. In many cases, simple mechanistic explanations can de identified for such complex behaviour patterns.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Learning