Evidence shows that insects experience the same pain as we do. A clear demonstration of play in bumble bees suggests pleasure may be part of the experience.

Samadi Galpayage is a behavioral ecologist from the Queen Mary University of London.

The playground was created for 45 bumble bees.

They could either walk directly to the food area through a clear path or be diverted by an obstacle course on either side of the road.

The balls were loose on one side and fixed on the other.

The animals looked at the balls and ROLLED THEM. The bees rolled the balls up to 118 times, showing no preference between the different colors.

Once they'd finished feeding in the area, most bees continued to roll balls.

The study's first author says watching bumble bees show something like play is mind-blowing.

Each bee preferred one path to the other before rolling their first ball. Most bees entered the mobile object area when the rolling began.

Galpayage says that they approach and manipulate the toys again and again. "They may experience some kind of positive emotional states, even if rudimentary, like other larger fluffy, or not so fluffy."

Pleasure is what motivates us and other animals to keep playing and improve our cognitive and motor skills.

The activity bees improve on with experience is the ability to handle flowers more deftly.

The same pattern we see in mammals, with young people being more inclined to play, was found in the new research.

The team gave the bumblebees the option of two different colored empty chambers after training them to associate ball rolling with a colored chamber. The bees weren't able to see what was inside the chamber, but they still chose the color of the balls to match.

The ball rolling preference was not associated with the area that got food. The preference was for the act of play, not for the clearing of cluttered space.

The bumblebee's ball-rolling met all five criteria for the phenomenon of play, which is an activity that isn't immediately functional, voluntary, rewarding, and different from other adaptive behaviors.

The researchers suggest that the behavior observed here has hedonic value for bumble bees, which adds to the growing body of evidence of a form of sentience.

Despite their tininess, insects are still packed with many of our fundamental, yet complex behaviors. These tiny animals are capable of much more than we have ever given them credit for.

The research provides a strong indication that insect minds are more advanced than we think. There is growing evidence that shows the need to protect insects that are a million miles away from the mindless, unfeeling creatures they are traditionally believed to be.

ethical questions are raised in light of troubling insect declines and proposed mass farming of insects in the future because of the prospect of insects having feelings from pain to pleasure.

This sort of finding has implications to our understanding of sentience and welfare of insects and will hopefully encourage us to respect and protect life on Earth ever more.

The research was published in an animal behavior journal.