The Endangered Bee Redefines Insects Abilities


Mathematics is an integral part of science and can be used to explain a lot of the laws that surround the universe.

Whilst some humans even struggle to get their heads around the complicated world of mathematics, there are smaller organisms that have managed to figure it out. It has been discovered that honeybees can understand addition and subtraction after being helped out a little with a few maths lessons.

Researches from Australia and France found out that by observing and studying shapes of different colours, honeybees are able to add and subtract.
The co-author of the study and research behind it has noted that this experiment helps us not only recognise that honeybees are intelligent but that brains, in general, evolve in order to understand and perform mathematics. Suggesting that perhaps it is likely for any brain to accept the concept of mathematics and apply it if taught sufficiently enough.

The chamber the bees were placed into, shaped like a Y with three sections, had a hole that the bees would go through. The first thing they came across were shapes of varying colours (either blue or yellow and against a grey background). The shapes varied from one to five and depending on the colour, the bees were to add or subtract. Yellow told the bees to subtract and blue told the bees to add from the starting number. It was always to take away or add just one.

The bees then followed through the chamber, the honeybees who got the challenge right were fed a solution of sugar (a very pleasant taste for bees) and those who got it wrong were giving quinine (very unpleasant).

Fourteen bees were used in this experiment and were given a total of four tests with ten choices. Because the bees had a choice of two answers each time, there was an assumption that the bees would have a 50% chance of getting the correct answer. Despite this prediction, the bees got the right answer 65% of the time, doing a lot better than the scientists thought. 

This is important because mathematics requires the brain to rely on short and long term memory. We need different parts of our brain in order to store this information and use it to solve the question. The scientists have acknowledged that this study has reformed their perception of mathematics and that simply adding and taking away can be achieved by a much smaller brain than our own or that of larger animals.

Despite being set apart by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, the fact bees and humans can learn simple addition and subtraction by using symbols redefines animals’ ability to take on mathematics.