Honeybees are good with numbers and punishment improves performance

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Honeybee

Despite honeybees having less than 0.01% of the number of brain cells as humans, they are surprisingly dexterous with numbers. They can perform basic arithmetic. They understand the concept of zero. I’m told that some experts believe that humans did not understand the concept of zero until the seventh century.

Honeybee
Honeybee. Photo: Pixabay.

Recent research indicates that honeybees are able to count to five which is significant because the barrier between four and five is an important one, apparently. Even for humans recognising a cluster of five requires more cognitive effort because we have to count.

Honeybees were tested to see whether they could distinguish between cards with four shapes on them and cards with eight, seven, six or five shapes. Bees rewarded with sugar struggled to distinguish between the number of shapes but when they were reprimanded with a sip of bitter-tasting quinine after making the wrong decision they performed better.

The bees consistently picked cards with four shapes when offered a choice between that card and cards with seven or eight shapes. They also succeeded when choosing between cards with four and five shapes. It appears that the punishment made them pay attention and it improved their concentration. It slowed them down said Scarlet Howard, a post-doctoral researcher at Toulouse University.

It is believed that bees acquired the skills to count to help them count landmarks when foraging or perhaps to help them recognise the best patch of flowers to gather nectar.

Other studies have shown that they can tell when one number is higher or lower than another. Bees can be trained to recognise faces and they can perform simple arithmetic. They can match symbols and quantities. We mustn’t underestimate honeybees or indeed any other animal or insect. The human needs to be more humble and less inclined to look down on animals and insects.

Source: The Times.

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