Bee-lieve It Or Not, Bees Can Do Maths

Australian researchers have discovered that bees can actually add and subtract.

Last year scientists discovered that the tiny honeybee brain could understand the concept of zero, something only a handful of animals can grasp.

Armed with this knowledge, they pushed on with experiments and discovered that these smart little creatures can also perform basic mathematics.

Researchers at RMIT in Melbourne successfully trained bees to recognise colours as symbolic representations for addition and subtraction, a discovery that helps scientists understand the relationship between brain size and power.

The findings have been published in the journal of Science Advances.

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Basically, mazes were used to test whether or not bees could perform basic tasks like adding and subtracting.

Over the course of 100 trials, the bees had a success rate of up to 75 percent, which is far from random chance.

While to humans, this may not sound like a giant feat,  a simple 1 + 1 = 2 equation is actually far more difficult than you may think.

You have to use your long-term memory to remember the rules around adding and subtracting while using your short-term memory to mentally manipulate a set of number, according to RMIT’s Associate Professor and contributor, Adrian Dyer.

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“On top of this, our bees also used their short-term memories to solve arithmetic problems, as they learned to recognise plus or minus as abstract concepts rather than being given visual aids," Professor Dyer said.

The experiments have been compared to humans first learning to link mathematic symbols with concepts.

“We learn as children that a plus symbol means you need to add two or more quantities, while a minus symbol means you subtract,” team leader, Dr Scarlett Howard said.

Bees aren't the first in the animal kingdom to be able to do such a task; chimpanzees, parrots, pigeons and some spiders also demonstrate similar abilities.

But the addition of bees to the list is a game-changer for scientists.

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

"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".