Killer bees are the villain in many a horror movie, and rightfully so: these Africanized honeybee hybrids are more aggressive and swarm more frequently than other types of bees, and can deliver a nasty sting.
But, the good news for the bee-phobic is that killer bees aren’t all that smart.
A team of researchers at the University of Sussex compared the brainpower of Africanized ‘killer’ bees with that of a more docile European breed, finding that the killer bees don’t owe their success to higher intelligence.
When testing the abilities of both kinds of bees to associate the scent of jasmine with a sugar reward, researchers found that killer bees – which have easily displaced native varieties of bees throughout Central America and the Southeastern united States – didn’t perform very well.
"Surprisingly, we found that fewer Africanized honeybees learn to associate an odor with a reward. Additionally, fewer Africanized honeybees remembered the association a day later,” the team wrote in their report.
While about half the European bees immediately stuck out their tongue-like probosces the second time they were exposed to the smell of jasmine, only a quarter of killer bees displayed similar behavior.
The research team speculates that killer bees may not need keen memories because they don’t often wander far from their hives or visit new flowers.
"Perhaps learning has a cost," says team leader Margaret Couvillon. "If it were cost-free, wouldn't we all be getting smarter?"