Bees can associate symbols with numbers say researchers

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We all know that some animals are very smart, dogs can be trained to perform impressive tasks, and primates can use sign language, and there are other smart animals. Most don’t likely think of bees as being intelligent creatures. Researchers from RMIT University say that they have already learned that bees can understand zero and do basic maths. A new study from the university has found that bees brains may be capable of connecting symbols to numbers.

Researchers say that they have trained honeybees to match a character to a specific quantity revealing that the bees can learn that a symbol represents a numerical amount. The scientists believe that the study may open new possibilities for communication between humans and other species.

The team says that humans take numbers for granted after learning them as a child, but the ability to recognize what the number “4” represents requires a sophisticated level of cognitive ability. Bee’s brains have less than a million neurons, while humans have over 86 billion. Despite having small brains, the study proves, according to the scientists, that complex cognitive capacity isn’t limited to vertebrates.

The experiment trained bees in a Y-shaped maze to correctly match a character with several elements. The bees were then tested to determine if they could match the character to various elements of the same quantity. An example is if they could figure out that “2” can represent two bananas, two trees, or two of anything.

A second group was trained in the opposite approach of matching a number of elements with a character. Both groups were able to grasp specific training, but the groups were unable to reverse the association and work to what was needed when tested with the opposite task. Scientists say that suggests that number processing and understanding of symbols happens in different regions of the bee brain. The team says that studying bee brains has interesting possibilities in the design of highly efficient computing systems.

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