Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bees know a bit of maths too

Intelligent honeybees know a bit of maths too, and can count upto four, according to an international team of scientists.

A new experiment has shown bees can discriminate between patterns containing two and three dots - without having to count the dots. And, with a bit of schooling, they can learn to tell the difference between three and four dots.

However at four, bee maths seems to run out. The team found their honeybees couldn't reliably tell the difference between four dots and five or six.

The researchers were led by Shaowu Zhang, chief investigator at The Vision Centre and Australian National University (ANU) and Hans Gross and Juergen Tautz, professors at the Wurzburg University in Germany.

The bees flew though an entry marked with a pattern of either two or three dots, which were signposts to the reward.

They then had to choose between two patterns by correctly matching the number of dots, to find where the reward was - a feat they then managed to repeat reliably once they had learned that two dots at the first entry meant they had to look for two dots at one of the second pair of patterns, where the reward was hidden.

Careful control over the experimental environment showed the bees were not using colour, smell or other clues to find their way to the hidden sugar-water reward, said Zhang, according to an ANU release.

To begin with the bees spent quite a bit of time scanning the dots. On later visits they zipped straight past them, once they knew what they meant.

The paper appeared in PLoSONE Wednesday.


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