Are insects smart? You might think that because most insects are pretty small, they have tiny brains that aren’t capable of complex thoughts. While we may not be able to measure an aphid’s IQ or rely on a beetle to help out with the kids’ advanced trigonometry homework, there are indications that insect intelligence is greater than one might think.

4 of the Smartest Insects in the United States

Take a look at what we consider to be some of the smartest insects in the United States.

Honey Bees

Bees are known for being interesting insects due to the fact that they live in eusocial colonies with a strict hierarchy. However, their means of communicating to one another are — to say the least — incredibly impressive.

When a worker honey bee locates flowers that are a plentiful source of pollen that they process to make honey, she alerts her fellow workers to the location using what’s called a waggle dance. This dance tells bees everything from how far away the flower is, to which direction the bees need to fly in order to reach the flower, to the bee’s relationship to the sun. These dances are amazingly accurate, so think about that the next time you plug an address into your GPS.

Farmer Ants

Most ant species also live in eusocial colonies and are capable of seemingly complex methods of communication. However, that’s not the only reason we consider them one of the smartest insects in the U.S. No, they earned their spot on this list because some species of the insects — commonly known as farmer ants — are agricultural experts.

Some farmer ants feed on the excrement of aphids. Because of this, they herd the aphids as if they were cattle. In certain cases, aphids even live in mounds with their ant ranchers.

Leaf-cutter ants are also interesting insects who farm. They cut leaves off of trees with their mandibles and carry them back to special chambers in their mound. When the leaves are chewed and mixed with leaf-cutter ant saliva, a special fungus grows. The ants farm this fungus and harvest it when they're ready to eat. And leaf cutter ants are part of the attine group, which includes ants that farm mushrooms.

Tarantula Hawk

While the names of these large wasps might evoke nightmares, they make our list of smartest insects due to the way their larvae survive. Female tarantula hawks have venom powerful enough to paralyze a tarantula when they sting. Once the wasp has rendered the spider immobile, she lays her eggs inside the tarantula’s abdomen.

When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the spider from the inside for weeks. But get this: The larvae are instinctively smart enough to avoid the tarantula’s vital organs until they pupate and reach maturity. After all, the longer the spider lives, the more time the larvae have with a sure source of food and shelter.

True this is a little gory, but you can’t deny that it’s a pretty smart way to ensure the survival of a species.

Jumping Spider

First, we have to point out that spiders are arachnids that are often mistakenly lumped into the same category as insects. Nonetheless, they’re pretty smart, and we never miss a chance to talk about jumping spiders.

Many people have seen videos of peacock spiders — a type of jumping spider — and their fascinating mating dances. Well, what if we told you that spiders like this could be capable of complex abstract thinking that allows them to locate their prey?

Though research is ongoing, initial findings have indicated that jumping spiders may be able to employ working memory to form plans that allow them to locate their food while avoiding obstacles. This fact is even more amazing when you consider that the jumping spider has a brain roughly the size of a sesame seed!

Insect intelligence is one of the many factors that pest control professionals consider when attempting to prevent or control infestations. You can learn more interesting bug facts on our blog.


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