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New study finds that paper wasps seem capable of logical reasoning

Elizabeth Tibbetts

Wasps appear to be capable of logical reasoning - that’s according to a new study out of the University of Michigan.

If A is greater than B and B is greater than C than A should also be greater than C. 

That’s the kind of logical inference that researchers say wasps seem to be capable of of making.

Dr. Elizabeth Tibbetts is a study author. She said researchers presented wasps with a series of colored pairs. Those pairs all fell on a ranked hierarchy, with some colors being better than others.

“Blue is better than yellow. Then we trained them that yellow is better than green.”

Finally wasps had to figure out whether blue might be better than green - showing that they could make a logical leap.

According to Tibbetts wasps passed the test.

She said bees don’t seem capable of making the same kind of logical leap.

“I think the reason that wasps and bees are different is because they have very different social lives.”

Tibbetts said wasp societies have complex dominance hierarchies and being able to determine where they fall in the pecking order would be much more important to them. It has long been thought that complex logic of this kind required a bigger brain.

“This shows us it’s not about brain size, it’s about what an animal needs to do to be successful in its environment.”

Tibbetts said so far wasps are the only insects shown to be capable of this kind of reasoning - but she would be surprised if they are the only insects that do.