Published: Fri, February 08, 2019
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Research: Bees can do basic arithmetic

Research: Bees can do basic arithmetic

Clint Perry, who studies invertebrate intelligence at the Bee Sensory and Behavioral Ecology Lab at Queen Mary University of London tells George Dvorsky at Gizmodo that he's not convinced by the research, and he had similar qualms about the study that suggested bees can understand the concept of zero.

Furthermore, these industrious insects have shown their smarts in several other areas, demonstrating the ability to understand concepts like "same" and "different," counting (a trait known as numerosity), and to learn skills from other bees.

Armed with this knowledge, they went on to solve basic mathematical problems set by the scientists.

In a new report, researchers from RMIT University say they have taught honeybees how to perform the arithmetic operations addition and subtraction, a remarkable feat for creatures whose brains have fewer than 1 million neurons.

RMIT's Associate Professor Adrian Dyer said numerical operations such as adding and subtracting are "complex" because they require two levels of processing. Rather, the idea of plus one or minus "one" was an abstract concept which bees had to resolve over the course of the training.

'Our findings suggest that advanced numerical cognition may be found much more widely in nature among non-human animals than previously suspected.

'If maths doesn't require a massive brain, there might also be new ways for us to incorporate interactions of both long-term rules and working memory into designs to improve rapid AI learning of new problems'.

But numerical cognition, such as exact number and arithmetic operations, requires a more "sophisticated" level of processing.

Bees have a grasp of basic maths and are able to add and subtract, a joint Australian-French study has shown.

We provide bees with a high concentration of sugar water during experiments, so individual bees (all female) continue to return to the experiment to collect nutrition for the hive.


Scientists used a series of mazes to test whether 14 bees could use symbolic, visual images of the colors yellow and blue to add and subtract, according to Time magazine. On the other hand, selecting the incorrect solution resulted in a nasty drop of quinine - like a slab of Brussels sprouts slathered in chocolate.

The bees then fly through a whole where they have to decide to head to the left or right of the maze.

Declines in recent months to honey bee numbers and health caused global concern due to the insects' critical role as a major pollinator.

The bees then appeared to use this acquired knowledge to do the required maths inside the decision chamber to reach the reward.

When pesticides are combined with limited food supplies, bees lack the energy to function, causing survival rates to plummet.

Initially, the bees made random choices, but over the course of 100 trials they learned that blue meant +1, while yellow meant -1. In doing the tests, the bees chose correctly between 60 and 75 percent of the time, the news outlet reported.

Ms Howard, the lead researcher, said mathematical ability was vital for human societies to flourish.

As children, we learn that a plus symbol (+) means we have to add two or more quantities, while a minus symbol (-) means we have to subtract quantities from each other.

"O$3 ur findings show that the understanding of maths symbols as a language with operators is something that many brains can probably achieve, and helps explain how many human cultures independently developed numeracy skills", they concluded.

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