Most normal people have this idea that insects don’t have intelligence. To some degree they might be right, but they only lack our kind of intelligence and rather they have one of the most efficient brains on this planet because not only is their brain very small, but they are one of the most thriving types of life on the planet and possibly our galaxy.
But before I let you know the most intelligent insects, let me explain their brain first. As I said before, their brain is very efficient, and the reason is very simple. Their brain is extremely small, but they are still able to do many complex tasks, and living, surviving, and thriving are enough complicated tasks for their small brain to call it the most efficient brain on the planet.
When we try to figure out how smart an insect is, we run into a significant problem: what precisely is intelligence for insects? Obviously, we can’t simply sit and talk to them to find out what they know about the world, physics, and so on. And, to be honest, those aren’t ideas that are really interesting to insects.
As a result, insect intelligence cannot be judged in the same manner that human intelligence can. This means we need to figure out what types of cognitive behaviors insects have and how they compare to other insects and to humans.
The brain of an insect is divided into three pairs of lobes: protocerebrum, deutocerebrum, and tritocerebrum. The lobes are basically joined ganglia. They are spidersclusters of tiny neurons used by insects to process sensory data. Each insect has a unique set of neurons.
Even so, insects are extremely complex creatures. Insects, despite their small brain size and low neuron density, can form memories and make smart decisions. A bee, for example, has around 1 million neurons, whereas humans have billions, which increases our cognitive capacity.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Bigger brains do not automatically imply greater intelligence. Scientists believe that generalist insects are smarter than others. The term refers to insects that can adapt to any environment.
The honey bee, unlike most insects, is a social animal, which requires it to have many intelligent abilities that non-social insects (such as flies or beetles) do not. And its intelligence is astounding: the insects can recognise and differentiate between human faces, which is a surprising attribute given that it isn’t really necessary for their survival. Another interesting fact: bees can count. In one experiment, honey bees were rewarded for stopping at the third in a series of landmarks, and they demonstrated the ability to remember this location and thus count. (The distance was changed while the number of landmarks remained constant to discourage the bees from using their sense of distance.) Further research revealed that their maximum counting ability is around four.
Bees can solve problems through analysis, learning, and memory. “At the start of its forage for food job, every bee is entirely flower-naive,” says Chittka, referring to the bee’s lack of instinctive knowledge of how to collect nectar or pollen from flowers. That’s a problem because flowers are so diverse: different flowers will require completely different strategies to exploit, and it’s up to each individual bee to figure out how to attack each different flower.
Bees can learn new food-gathering strategies from other bees, which few other insects can do. Chittka described a technique known as “nectar robbing,” in which bees find that it is easier to suck nectar from a flower’s spur than it is to figure out how to get inside the flower. Other bees have demonstrated the ability to observe this strategy, comprehend its purpose, master it, and remember it for future flowers. That is very clever!
Ants, despite their small size, rank second in insect intelligence. One explanation is that ants, like honey bees, have a eusocial community. It allows them to survive and thrive in ways that solitary insects cannot.
A further reason ants are thought to be intelligent is less well-known. Many people are aware that ants are gatherers who store food for the long winter months. That seems like a good reason to think of ants as intelligent, but a lesser-known reason is that some ants aren’t just gatherers – they’re also farmers.
Farmer ants get their name from the fact that they grow some of their own food. In their colony, they cultivate and harvest a specific type of fungus. Aphids are sometimes kept as livestock and gathered around. The ants don’t eat the aphids, but they do eat their poop occasionally, so they like to keep them around.
Most people do not consider cockroaches to be the most intelligent of insects. After all, cockroaches do not have the same eusocial community as ants and honey bees, and growing their own food or making up dances are not typical cockroach behaviours. Cockroaches, on the other hand, have some intelligent behaviours that place them third on this list.
There are two primary reasons why cockroaches are considered intelligent insects. Cockroaches, for example, can remember multiple routes around your house. When a cockroach is startled, it scurries away in an obvious random direction – but it turns out that its escape route isn’t actually random. Cockroaches plan multiple escape routes in their heads, and when startled, they choose one and try to escape.
Remembering specific routes is not something that all insects and animals are capable of. This escape memory must also make split-second decisions, demonstrating the speed with which these insects’ brains can react.
The intelligence of the cockroach is thought to be closely linked to its visual processing unit and the mushroom body of its brain. Roaches use their intelligence for more basic tasks with it.