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Scientists say that bees can do basic math

According to a study published in Science Advances this week, scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have shown that honeybees can add and subtract when trained to do so. This discovery helps scientists understand the relationship between brain size and brain power, and bird heads may be torn from the list of perceived difficulties. Honeybees and humans are separated by more than 400 million years of evolution, so the authors of the study say that an advanced understanding of numbers may be "more accessible to nonhuman animals than previously thought."

Many animals understand basic numbers for essential tasks. So far, however, only a few animals have shown the ability to add and subtract. Honeybees join this short list, which includes chimpanzees, gray parrots and spiders.

The realization that the tiny brain of a honeybee can understand basic mathematical operations has implications for the future development of artificial intelligence, according to RMIT.

"This could give us insight into how simpler computers can be built that can be processed at a higher level … perhaps make computers more energy efficient," said Scarlett R. Howard, lead author of the study.

How to Train Your Bee

Training bees for homework is not an option, but scientists have helped them learn.

In this study, it was learned that 1

4 free-flying honeybees recognize colors as "symbolic representations of addition and subtraction," with blue addition and yellow subtraction.

  A diagram of a device used to train and test free-flying bees.

Bees entered a Y-shaped labyrinth. At the entrance to the labyrinth, they looked at a sample set containing a certain number of blue or yellow shapes. Next, they flew through an opening and chose between two possible options: If the elements they saw first were blue, the bees would have to fly to the decision-making chamber, which had more than the sample they first saw (Addition!). If the shapes were yellow, the bees would have to choose the option that contained one shape less than the sample (subtraction!).

In 100 trials, bees were rewarded with a drop of sugar water for the right choice and punished for making the wrong choice with a drop of quinine solution.

After the training, the moment of truth came in the test phase: during tests that did not include reward or punishment, the bees had the correct answers in 63% to 72% of cases. That's no coincidence.

In this study, bees ranging from 1 to 5 were tested for their ability to add and subtract. Howard notes that it would be useful to study how bees work on larger numbers, such as At 2 plus 3 or when testing more complex operations.

Why would a honey bee need to know mathematics?

Addition and subtraction may not be beneficial to a honeybee's everyday life, but the cognitive abilities required to perform mathematics are likely to be beneficial. The authors of the study said that combining visual features with a reward, such as the mathematical tests the bees have passed, will likely help them in their quest for adventure. For example, it would help to remember which floral characteristics (such as color, shape, or size) can supply significant resources and which floral characteristics do not.

Previous studies have shown that bumblebees can solve complex tasks. A study from 2016 showed that bees can learn other bees and convey their skills. Is a bee-to-bee math lesson alright?

Howard told CNN that she hopes the results of this study will help people understand, "Insects are not unintelligent, they are smart and can do cognitively demanding things."

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