Can bees do maths?

A new outlook on bee intelligence

Apr 07, 2015
Bees doing maths

Bees doing maths

Bees are bright creatures and quick learners – most people today would agree with this appreciation. Bee researcher Randolf Mendel continues to be fascinated by their talents. Working with one individual bee, for example, he found out that the insect took an impressive 25,000 different decisions during the three weeks he studied its movements. Here are some other surprising insights that he shared recently in an interview with the renowned German weekly DIE ZEIT:

Bees can think logically
Bees can understand the logic of recurring patterns and identify the underlying principle: e.g. the concept of “identical vs. not-identical”. Once they have learned to differentiate between “different vs. identical” in colors or patterns, they can even transfer this knowledge to scents.  

Bees can grasp the concept of quantities
In one trial series, bees would be familiarized with the fact that they would find sugar after the last of three artificial landmarks that were set up for the test. They continued to look for food after the third landmark – no matter how near or far the distance between the landmarks was in subsequent tests.

Bees are planners
Bees take complex decisions, but they don’t act on them single- mindedly. They have underlying intentions and plans, and possess an inner map. They can even combine different pieces of information to reach a location on this inner map.

Findings from the bee sleep-clinic
Just like humans and other mammals, bees improve their memory when they sleep. The more complex the things they need to remember, the more sleep they need. They also have different sleep phases. When humans dream intensely, there will be rapid eye-movement behind their closed lids. Bees have a similar feature: During their sleep, the observer will suddenly see rapid antenna movement. It almost looks as if bees are able to dream in their sleep.   

The interview with Randolf Menzel was published in the “science talk” section of the German ZEIT magazine.

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