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Bumble bees display cross-modal object recognition between visual and tactile senses

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Science  21 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6480, pp. 910-912
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay8064

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  • A killjoy perspective on object representation by bumblebees
    • Florent Le Moël, Researcher, Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, F-31062 Cedex 09, France
    • Other Contributors:
      • Sebastian Schwarz, Researcher, Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, F-31062 Cedex 09, France
      • Mathieu Lihoreau, CNRS Researcher, Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, F-31062 Cedex 09, France
      • Antoine Wystrach, CNRS Researcher, Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, F-31062 Cedex 09, France

    Abstract:
    Solvi et al. (1) reported that bumblebees trained to discriminate objects by touch could distinguish them through vision, and vice versa. We argue that this behavioural feat may be explained by egocentric heuristics rather than an abstract representation of object shapes. We call for more considerations of animals’ ecology, neural circuitry and actual behaviours.

    Main text:
    Insect cognition research is living a golden age, with increasing numbers of studies showing that insects can solve ever more impressive behavioural tasks despite their miniature brain. In the latest example, Solvi et al. (1) describe an elegant experiment where bumblebees trained to discriminate cubes vs. spheres, either visually (through a transparent screen) or by touch (in the dark), could apparently also recognize them in the other modality. This suggests that insects form a “modality-independent internal representations of object shapes”, an ability that we humans are explicitly self-aware of.
    This study is designed to demonstrate, in an insect, the existence of a ‘higher cognitive process’ drawn from human psychology rather than the animal’s known neuro-anatomy or natural behaviours. This approach undeniably drives the field of comparative cognition forward by suggesting unsuspected and often sensational human-like cognitive abilities in small-brained animals. However, this provides no insights on how or why these behavioural feats are achieved; and because the...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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