Science News

Bees can count up to 4

Sun, 28th Sep 2008

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Scientists have shown that bees can count up to 4!

Marie Dacke and Mandyam Srinivasan who carried out the work at the Australian National University in Canberra have published a paper in Animal Cognition describing a series of experiments to prove that the humble honeybee is numerically more sophisticated than some humans.

Western Honey Bees collecting pollenIn an elegant series of experiments the duo trained bees to fly along a featureless tunnel past a series of identical yellow landmarks, behind one of which was always hidden a small sugary treat. 

By varying the distances between the landmarks, changing the shape and size of the landmarks, and also obscuring the landmarks sequentially so the bees could only see them one at a time, the duo have cleverly shown that the bees must be totting up how many landmarks they've passed in order to reach their intended target.

The only slight snag is that the bees can't count up to more than four! Once the team started to hide the treat behind a fifth landmark, bee performance took a nose dive.

Dacke and Srinivasan think that the insects use their counting ability to help them to navigate.

By ticking off a few landmarks along the way and combining this with an internal measure of how far they've travelled this is probably how they get from A to "Bee"!



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