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BREAKING NEWS: Bumble Bees Like to Play With Toys


A bumble bee on a flower

Bumble bees are some of the best animals in the animal kingdom. They’re roly poly little teddy bears that pollinate plants! What could possibly be better?

Maybe bumble bees … that play with toys?

A new study in Animal Behaviour has found that bumble bees do, in fact, like to play. Although we know that humans aren’t the only animals that engage in play behavior—see, for example, your dog racing joyfully after that stick—we usually think of play as something that’s reserved for vertebrates like mammals and birds. However, a research team led by PhD student Samadi Galpayage found that bumble bees appeared to enjoy rolling wooden balls around an enclosure, demonstrating that they’re much smarter than we give them credit for.

According to the study, the bees played with the balls by standing on top of them and rolling them across the floor of the enclosure. The researchers controlled for other possible ball-rolling motivations and concluded that the bees’ behavior met the criteria for play. The bees didn’t have to roll the balls to accomplish anything, and they didn’t get any additional rewards for doing it. They seemed to just like it.

Science reached out to Galpayage, saying that “the finding indicates a level of cognitive sophistication in bees that [Galpayage] hopes will encourage policies to protect them.” New conservation policies for bees can’t come soon enough, considering that bees are in serious need of protection: according to the Bee Conservancy, 1 in 4 species of bee in North America alone is at risk for extinction, even though bees pollinate the majority of the crops we depend on for food.

So, the next time you see a bumble bee, remember that it’s not just a helpful pollinator. That bee is a playful scamp who deserves your love—and your support.

(featured image: Thijs van der Weide via

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at