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“Do bumble bees play?” awarded the “Pineapple Science Award”

Dr Samadi Galpayage, a recent Queen Mary University of London PhD graduate, and her team including Professor Lars Chittka, a world-renowned expert on bee behaviour, have been awarded the 12th “Pineapple Science Award” in Biology for their work on bumblebee play. 

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A bumblebee
A bumblebee

China's Pineapple Awards, mirroring the Ig Nobel Prizes, honour researchers who delve into the unconventional and intriguing realms of science. The award is presented by the Zhejiang Science and Technology Museum in Hangzhou, China and recognizes imaginative research that aims to arouse public enthusiasm for science among the younger generation. 

Galpayage’s and Chittka’s research on bumble bee play was published in the journal Animal Behaviour and has been featured in numerous popular media outlets. It adds to an increasing body of work showing that bees do not just display surprising levels of intelligence (they can count, use tools, and learn from each other), but that they might also experience emotion-like states. Recent work from the team has shown that bees get little dopamine hits when they encounter surprise rewards, which puts them in an optimism-like mindset. Simulated predator attacks, conversely, induce a negative affective state, and bees might also experience pain.  

Dr Galpayage and Professor Chittka’s research is important because it helps us to understand that, as thinking and feeling beings, we humans share the world many with other thinking and feeling beings – and this places on us an obligation to protect bumble bees and other pollinators. This is not only so because these insects deliver a useful service – pollinating crops and wildflowers – but also because their intelligence, however different it is from ours, commands respect.  

Professor Lars Chittka comments: “It's a magnificent honour to receive this award! My work has often had a playful, tongue-in-cheek element - we've measured bees' responses to Van Gogh's ‘Sunflowers’ for example, and my team uses my 50+ year old Lego bricks as bee feeders. The question of whether bees play follows naturally from these endeavors, and I am more than pleased for an award recognizing that I do not take my work (or myself) too seriously. All science is a kind of playful, exploratory activity.” 

Dr Samadi Galpayage says she wanted to investigate a novel and thought-provoking topic, even if it was unconventional and difficult. “I am glad that such work has resulted in more people perceiving scientific research as fun and creative as well as necessary to advance our understanding of the natural world. I believe it is part of our duties as scientists to make scientific findings accessible to anyone, and to show the world that science can be fun and creative as well as necessary to advance our understanding of the natural world.” 

The ceremony for the 2023 Pineapple Science Awards is held on November 11 at the Wenzhou Olympic Sports Center. The ceremony will feature a larger screen and stage, as well as a larger audience than previous ceremonies. 

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