Bees know how to count

Bonnie Kittle @bonniekdesign

Honey bees can perform basic mathematical calculations, Australian and French scientists have shown.

Last year researchers are affiliated with RMIT University and Toulouse III University established that these social insects were able to represent and interpret the zero .

The present study shows that bees can be taught to recognize colors as symbolic representations of addition and subtraction, and to use this information to solve arithmetic problems.

Mathematical problem solving requires a sophisticated level of intelligence, which involves complex mental management of numbers, rules, but also a short-term working memory.

In addition, numerical operations such as addition and subtraction are complex because they require two levels of processing.

You must be able to maintain the rules of addition and subtraction in your long-term memory, while mentally manipulating a set of given numbers in your short-term memory.

 Professor Adrian Dyer, RMIT University

“In addition, our bees have also used their short-term memory to solve arithmetic problems, because they have learned to recognize the notions of plus and minus as abstract concepts rather than associating them with visual aids,” explains Prof. Adrian Dyer.

Did you know?

  • Bees have only one million neurons, which is 100,000 times less than humans;
  • they have an elaborate short-term memory that allows them to consider future decisions;
  • they include abstract concepts like similarity and difference;
  • they acquire complex skills from other bees.

These surprising capabilities, according to the researchers, expand our understanding of the relationship between brain size and power.

Thus, even the small brain of a bee can perform basic mathematical operations, a knowledge that could serve the future development of artificial intelligence by refining machine learning.

Our results suggest that advanced digital cognition may be more prevalent in nature in non-humans than previously thought.

 Adrian Dyer

Previous studies have shown that some primates, birds like the crow, and even spiders are able to add and subtract.

The details of this work are published in Science Advances (New Window ).

A destabilized brain

More and more studies, many of them conducted at Laval University in Quebec City, show that the collapse of bee colonies observed in America and Europe over the past decade is linked to insecticides , particularly to family of neonicotinoids. To succeed in foraging, bees use their great cognitive abilities, but toxic products attack the communication between the neurons of their brain, which destabilizes them and harms the foraging.

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