Insect study: bees can learn to count

Scientists have been studying how animals capture numbers for some time. Now they found out: honey bees can even pay a little.

Researchers have already studied the ability of counting in birds, lions or chimpanzees. Now they have collected interesting findings about honey bees.

According to a new study, the insects can even learn to calculate - at least simple subtraction and addition is to teach the animals to write researchers from France and Australia in the journal "Science Advances".

"Our findings suggest that advanced numerical understanding in animals is much more pronounced than previously thought," said lead author Adrian Dyer of RMIT University in Melbourne.


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The experiment, with which the researchers have proven the computing skills of 14 honeybees, is like a course in which the insects indicate their calculation result by detecting colors and flies in different holes. In concrete terms, this works like this: A bee sees two or three squares at the beginning. If these are yellow, that means pulling off a square. If they are blue, the bee has to add a square.

Blue stands for addition, yellow for subtraction. The bee can choose the right solution by flying through the hole in the wall marked with the correct number of squares. If it is correct, the bee is given a sugar solution as a reward. If it flies wrong, it gives a bitter-tasting variant.

Scarlett Howard / DPA

The study showed a learning effect. After a hundred attempts, the insects were on average almost twice as often correct as at the beginning, when they still made completely random decisions.

The bees after training were not only able to perceive the number of elements, but also perform the brain-complex process of adding and subtracting, the researchers write.

That other animals have the ability to handle simple arithmetic tasks, had been shown in earlier research. Accordingly, even chicks can deal with numbers. And monkeys also have considerable computing skills. Some researchers assume that some animals have a universal sense of numbers, which they need to survive - for example, to determine if predators are in the majority.