Friday, January 30, 2009

Bees Can 'Count', New Study Shows

Bees are able to recognise numbers up to four, according to the results of an Australian study into insect numeracy.
By Matthew Moore, The Telegraph (UK), 1/27/2009

Scientists had believed that counting abilities were exclusive to vertebrates but the new research suggests that insects also possess rudimentary number awareness.

Tests showed that honeybees were able to tell the difference between patterns containing two and three dots, and researchers believe they could be trained to recognise four dot patterns as well.

The bees do not technically "count" but are able to notice and recall how many dots they see, according to the team at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science in Australia who carried out the research.

"We never expected to find such abilities in insects," said Dr Shaowu Zhang, chief investigator at the centre.

"Our feeling now is that – so far as these very basic skills go – there is probably no boundary between insects, animals and us."

In the study, bees were flown into a maze through an entrance marked with either two or three dots. They had to remember this number when the maze forked into two paths – one marked with two dots, the other with three – in order to reach a sugar-water reward…

The team's paper, Number-based visual generalisation in the honeybee, appears in the international journal Plos One…

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