Experiment Exhibits Bees Can Perceive a Symbolic Language For Arithmetic

Do you want one more reason to like bees? Not solely can our fuzzy little flower associates carry out primary arithmetic, scientists have now found that they’ll recognise symbols related to numbers.


Simply as we people recognise the image 7 or VII is related to a amount of seven, evidently bees could make the identical affiliation.

In different phrases, they do not simply perceive portions, addition, and subtraction – bees also can comprehend a symbolic language for these ideas. That’s fairly superb for a creature with a bee-sized mind!

“We take it as a right as soon as we have discovered our numbers as youngsters, however having the ability to recognise what ‘four’ represents really requires a classy degree of cognitive potential,” mentioned imaginative and prescient scientist Adrian Dyer of RMIT College in Australia.

“Research have proven primates and birds also can be taught to hyperlink symbols with numbers, however that is the primary time we have seen this in bugs.”

The researchers already had an inkling this was attainable. They’d found, by means of cautious experimentation, that bees appear to grasp symbols for addition and subtraction to carry out very primary arithmetic.

And we all know, based mostly on earlier research, that bees can talk, utilizing a fancy ‘waggle dance’ to convey details about the place to forage.

However this new analysis takes it a step additional, displaying, for the primary time, that – like people, chimps and even pigeons have been proven to do – invertebrates can perceive and use a language for arithmetic.

bee smarts(Howard et al., Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2019)

The researchers employed a modified system beforehand used to find out that pigeons may recognise numerical symbols. Invented symbols, or ‘indicators’, had been assigned a numerosity and positioned in a Y-shaped maze.

Bees had been skilled to fly on this maze, the place first they might view a stimulus – both an indication, or a picture displaying two or three shapes – earlier than nipping over to the choice chamber. There, they might view two choices.


In the event that they had been proven an indication initially, the 2 choices could be a picture of two shapes and a picture of three shapes, they usually must select the proper variety of shapes to match the signal. In the event that they had been proven plenty of shapes initially, the 2 choices could be two completely different indicators, they usually’d need to match the signal to the variety of objects they considered.

In the event that they selected accurately, matching an N-shaped signal to 2 objects and an upside-down T to a few objects, the bee could be given a scrumptious sugar answer. An incorrect reply, nonetheless, would yield innocent, however icky-tasting, quinine.

By the top of the 50 trials, the bees had been ultimately accurately matching indicators to numerosity with an accuracy of round 75 p.c. Then the researchers switched it up, testing the bees with new colors, patterns and shapes, to find out whether or not the bees had been matching numerosity to the image, and never the picture as an entire.

The bees nonetheless matched the symbols based mostly on the variety of shapes within the picture.


However they weren’t in a position to be taught the duty in reverse. If their coaching stimulus had been an indication, they had been unable to be taught once more from a numerosity stimulus, and vice versa.

“This means that quantity processing and understanding of symbols occurs in several areas in bee brains, just like the best way separate processing occurs within the human mind,” mentioned zoologist Scarlett Howard of the Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier.

“Our outcomes present honeybees will not be on the identical degree because the animals which have been in a position to be taught symbols as numbers and carry out advanced duties.”

Nor does the analysis present that bees can comprehend the amount itself – simply that they can match a amount to an emblem, and that they’re unable to be taught that matching in reverse.

Not solely does this assist us perceive studying, and the way the mind builds connections between ideas, nevertheless it may lay the foundations of a beforehand unknown bridge in communications between people and bees.

“People have over 86 billion neurons in our brains, bees have lower than one million, and we’re separated by over 600 million years of evolution,” Dyer mentioned.

“But when bees have the capability to be taught one thing as advanced as a human-made symbolic language, this opens up thrilling new pathways for future communication throughout species.”

The analysis has been printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


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