Let bees count the ways

The honeybee might very well be the math whiz of the insect world. New research out of The Vision Centre in Australia has experimentally proven that bees can count to four, recognizing different numbers of patterns and shapes. The findings highlight a skill especially important for social insects, such as the bee, that travel long distances to find food.

Researchers trained the bees to play a game of memory while traveling through a Y-shaped maze signposted with various numbers of symbols and patterns. These patterns matched up with patterns on a second signpost which signaled a honeybee reward. Dr. Shaowu Zhang, Chief Investigator of The Vision Centre, said they controlled for elements that could otherwise influence bees’ pathfinding, such as smell or color.

In the study, bees figured out what the various signs of patterns meant based on counting.  And it’s a technique that might translate to the natural world in the form of remembering landmarks — a cluster of three trees for instance.

“There has been a lot of evidence that vertebrates, such as pigeons, dolphins or monkeys, have some numerical competence – but we never expected to find such abilities in insects,” said Dr. Zhang.

What’s the buzz for the honeybees future? Finding out if they are capable of doing simple arithmetic of course.

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2 responses to “Let bees count the ways

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