October 11, 2019
Bees are pretty cool.
- Can add, subtract, and perform other simple math operations
- Patrol the American border and attack invaders
- Do the pollination thing
- Can count up to 5
- Understand “less than” and “greater than” rules
- Understand the concept of zero
- Don’t turn your cities into chimp ghettos
- Appreciate flowers
- Respond well to education and training
Can you say the same about blacks and browns? We should be giving American citizenship to the bees instead.
Honey bees are able to do simple maths and reach the correct answer much faster if they’re punished when they get it wrong, scientists have discovered.
With brains the size of a sesame seed and with only 0.01 per cent of the brain cells humans have, they might not seem like born mathematicians.
But faced with a Y-shaped maze puzzle, with one side offering the sweet reward of sugar water and the other a punishing bitter quinine drink, bees were trained to distinguish between different values up to a maximum of five.
The bees given both the trick and the treat during their training became adept at choosing the right number on a card more quickly than those which weren’t.
Scientists previously thought the insects were among the collection of animals who are able to count objects in groups of four but no higher.
The ability to count past five is a marker that differentiates animals with higher cognitive ability.
Now researchers from the University of Toulouse in France and RMIT University in Australia have discovered that bees have more of an understanding of basic arithmetic than believed, and even understand the concept of zero.
Historians believe zero was not even understood by humans until the 1600s.
If you tell a group of bees “no free stuff for you, zero free stuff for you,” they’ll be like “yes, zero, we understand zero,” and go back to pollinating and doing their other bee stuff.
If you tell that to blacks or browns, on the other hand…
For some reason we’re flooding our countries with blacks and browns though. I guess they do something more important for us than pollinating the planet.
Leader of the study Dr Scarlett Howard, who moved to France so she could continue her experiment during the Australian winter, said: ‘The honey bees were very cooperative, especially when I was providing sugar rewards.
‘Recently, honey bees were shown to learn the rules of “less than” and “greater than” and apply these rules to evaluate numbers from zero to six.’
Speaking to The Times, the scientist explained that when reprimanded the bees ‘slow down and seem like they pay more attention’.
But why must a bee be good at maths? Researchers think the skill could be used by the insects to navigate gardens and landscapes for their favourite plants by counting landmarks.
Understanding how bees process information could help scientists when building computer systems using basic numeracy.
Professor Adrian Dyer, from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia said: ‘If bees can perceive zero with a brain of less than a million neurons, it suggests there are simple efficient ways to teach AI new tricks.’
Earlier this month scientists revealed how honey bees are able to retain memories of good and bad social encounters, storing them in distinct clusters in their brains just like we do.
Studying bees is likely to help with the development of better artificial intelligence… can you say the same about blacks and browns?