It’s natural for us humans to wonder about the other creatures that we share this planet with. This curiosity teaches us a lot about the world around us and helps us understand our own lives and situations better as well.
But sometimes it’s more than curiosity that has us asking questions about the other creatures around us – specifically about insects. When insects become a problem in our homes, we want to know what we’re up against. This information can help us know when to call a pest control company to help us out, and when we should just leave the insects alone.
So which insects are the smartest? And just how smart are they?
Can Insects Be Smart?
When we try to determine how smart an insect is, we run into one big problem – what, exactly, is intelligence for insects? Obviously, we can’t just sit down and have a conversation with them to find out what they know about history, biology, and so on. And honestly, those are topics that don’t matter much to insects.
So insect intelligence can’t be determined the same way a human’s intelligence can be assessed. This means we have to figure out what kind of intelligent behaviors insects do have and how they compare to other insects and to us.
Typically, when we look at insect intelligence, we assess their observable behaviors. Some scientists do studies on the brain functions of insects. Those studies tell us more about how an insect’s brain reacts, but they don’t really tell us how smart an insect is.
Looking instead at observable behaviors of insects can be a good measure of intelligence. We can look at things like how the insects interact with each other and other creatures, how they work to survive, and how well they remember locations.
When you use this kind of observation, there are three insects that seem especially smart:
The 3 Smartest Insects
1. Honey Bees
Hands down, honey bees are generally considered the smartest insect, and there are several reasons that justify their place at the top.
First, honey bees have an impressive eusocial (socially cooperative) community. Any species that has a large social community likely has higher intelligence because survival is looked at as a group effort, not an individual effort. Communities require a lot of communication and work, and a species that is capable of building that kind of communication and teamwork requires higher intelligence to do so.
Second, honey bees have a lot of work to do, and they figure out the most efficient process to do that work. They’ll find the shortest way to visit all of the flowers they need to get nectar from, especially if they follow that route regularly.
Third, honey bees learn from each other. A young bee doesn’t automatically know how to collect nectar from a flower. But by watching older bees collect nectar, the young bees learn to mimic the older bees instead of figuring it out by trial and error. Not all insects or animals are capable of that kind of learning, which makes the honey bees more intelligent than other creatures.
Fourth, honey bees have sophisticated communication. They use a movement called the “waggle dance” to indicate the direction of food or shelter in comparison to the sun, then perform a “dance” to pass on that information to the other bees in the hive.
Honey bees prove how smart they are in a lot of ways. And knowing how smart they are can help us humans appreciate them even more. However, honey bees are also becoming endangered, and that means that you shouldn’t call a pest control company to get rid of bees in your yard or home. Instead, call a professional beekeeper to pick up the hive and take care of it.
Ants, tiny as they are, actually come in the number 2 spot for insect intelligence. One reason for this is that ants, like honey bees, have a eusocial community. It helps them survive and thrive in ways that solitary insects can’t.
But another reason ants are considered smart isn’t as well-known. Many people know that ants are gatherers and stock up food storage for the hard to survive months. That alone seems like a good reason to consider ants smart, but the less-known reason is that some ants aren’t just gatherers – they’re also agricultural.
Farmer ants are named farmers for a reason – they literally grow some of their food. They grow and harvest a certain type of fungus in their colony. Sometimes they also keep aphids as livestock and herd them around. The ants don’t actually eat the aphids, but they do eat their poop sometimes, so the ants like to keep them around.
Ants can be harmless to humans, but if the ants decide to build their colony in your home, their colony can grow to an infestation level extremely fast. If you think ants might be a problem in your home, call a pest control company right away to prevent it from turning into an infestation.
Cockroaches might not be considered the smartest of insects to most people. After all, they don’t have the same sort of eusocial community as ants and honey bees, and growing their own food or making up dances are not common behaviors for cockroaches. However, cockroaches do have some intelligent behaviors that make them number 3 on this list.
There are two main reasons cockroaches are considered smart insects. One reason is that cockroaches can remember multiple routes around your home. When you startle a cockroach, it scurries away in a seemingly random direction – but it turns out that its escape route isn’t actually random. Cockroaches keep multiple routes for escape in their minds, and when they’re startled, they pick one route and scamper.
Remembering specific routes like this is not something all insects and animals can do. This escape memory also has to make split-second decisions, proving how quickly these insects’ brains can react.
Cockroaches are also smart because they can be trained to respond to specific stimuli. Scientists have trained them to drool when they smell certain smells. If they can be trained to drool, maybe someday they could be trained to do other things.
However, cockroaches can be a nuisance and a health hazard in your home. So even though they are smart, you shouldn’t let them live in your home. Instead, call a pest control company to help you get rid of these smart creatures.