A new study by the University of Michigan offers the first ever proof of transitive inference in a non-vertebrate creature. In recent decades, vertebrate animals including monkeys, birds, and even fish have displayed the potential to use transitive interface. Surprisingly, wasps are the first insects to hypothesise unknown relationships. Scientists have found a method to the wasp’s menace which once believed the quality of human reasoning powers. But the new study reveals the insects also use a type of reasoning known as Transitive Interference. It is the ability to use known links to conclude unknown relationships.
Basically, it means they can figure out that if it is X>Y, Y>Z, then X>Z. An evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan Elizabeth Tibbetts has discovered first ever existence of TI in a spineless animal – the paper wasp. Those insects are found across the globe. Wasps have a particular type of nests which are made up of chewed wood mixed with saliva. Those nests often look like paper. The sting of a paper wasp is poisonous to humans. But it is less painful than that of other species of wasp. The study involved two common species of paper wasp, namely, Poliste dominula and Polistus metricus.
Prof Tibbetts and her team wanted to know whether both species could solve a TI problem. Scientists used various colour pairs for the test. One of the colours offered a small electrical zap when touched, while the other did not. In pairs, the wasps went to the colours and quickly learned both safe and unsafe colours. Scientists also tested honeybees if they could perform the same. But the study reveals a type of tricky social behaviour is not present in honeybees’ colonies. One of the probable reason for that result is, bees have the small nervous system which forces cognitive restrictions. Thus those insects fail to perform TI. On the other hand, paper wasps having a same-sized nervous system to honeybees qualified the test. In short, paper wasps show more complex social behaviour.