Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment), University of Sussex
Dave Goulson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Bumblebees are among the intellectual giants of the insect world. They learn the locations of landmarks relative to their nest, and are able to navigate accurately many miles across the landscape. They quickly learn which flowers are the most rewarding, and how best to collect the rewards swiftly, using the least energy. They even use the faint smell of previous bee visitors to tell them which flowers are likely to have been emptied, and avoid them in favour of those with a full tank.
Bumblebees communicate through pheromones, which the queen uses to communicate within the nest, and through sounds caused by their wings, which workers can use to recruit more foragers and to signal danger. They can even learn by watching each other which flowers are the most rewarding. They are amazing and important creatures, for they pollinate numerous wildflowers and many crops such as tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and runner beans.