Bees capable of doing arithmetic calculations, study finds

Non-native honey bees have established robust feral populations in San Diego, such as the pictured swarm. Honey bees currently make up 75 percent of the observed pollinators in San Diego, considered a global biodiversity hotspot.
James Hung

A new study has revealed that bees are capable of doing basic arithmetic calculations. As per researchers who took part in the study, bees can add and subtract, and thus they join the A-list of the animal kingdom (in terms of cognition) that is comprised of monkeys, parrots, and spiders.

Honey bee's brain is oval shaped, and it comprises of less than one million neurons. It should be noted that the human brain contains 100 million neurons, and it makes human beings the most intelligent animal on the planet.

The new finding, published in the journal Science, revealed that the brains of insects are more powerful than previously estimated. Earlier, experts believed that insects might have vague numerical sense, but this latest research suggests that insects are capable of doing complex memory tasks that make arithmetic possible.

"A honeybee brain contains less than 1 million neurons, so evidence that a bee can learn to use a mathematical operator is very important for our understanding of how big brains, like ours, may have plausibly evolved the capacity for the incredible mathematical achievements that underpins our modern society," said Adrian Dyer, the co-author of the study, an expert on imaging and information processing at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the Washington Post reports.

The research report also suggested that creatures like bees might be biologically tuned to survive in complex environments that demand numerical abilities.

A few months back, a study conducted by a team of Australian and French researchers had found that bees understand the concept of zero. The research report added that humans might be actually underestimating the intelligence level of insects.

"Zero is a difficult concept to understand and a mathematical skill that doesn't come easily it takes children a few years to learn. We've long believed only humans had the intelligence to get the concept, but recent research has shown monkeys and birds have the brains for it as well. What we haven't known, until now, is whether insects can also understand zero," said Adrian Dyer, a researcher who took part in the 2018 study.