# How do I recognize fake honeybees

## Bees can count

**Humming mathematicians: honeybees can learn to solve simple math problems. After just a short training session, they understand that blue stands for addition and yellow for subtraction and then fly straight to the right solution to the task. The astonishing thing about it: Such arithmetic operations are based on complex mental processes that one would not have thought of insects up to now. Such math skills are only known from a few vertebrates.**

Honey bees are real “wise guys” among insects: They remember the way to particularly nectar-rich flowers, communicate in a complex way with their conspecifics and even have a sense of mathematics. Because the bees can immediately recognize differences in quantity and even understand the abstract concept of the number “zero” as an empty quantity - a skill that human children only develop at the age of four.

### Computing is not a trivial achievement

But what about the arithmetic skills of honey bees? Can the clever insects also solve tasks like 2 + 1 or 4-1? Even if these math problems seem easy to us, they are based on complex mental processes: "Arithmetic operations such as addition and subtraction require two levels of information processing," explain Scarlett Howard from RMIT University in Melbourne and her colleagues. "The first is the representation of the numerical attributes and the second is the mental manipulation of these representations in working memory."

In other words: if you want to solve these tasks, you have to have a sense of quantities - this is the case with bees. To do this, however, you have to keep the rules of arithmetic in mind and then use the short-term memory to subject the numbers to the respective arithmetic operation. Can the bee do that? Previously, such skills were only known from a few vertebrates such as chimpanzees, orangutans, rhesus monkeys, crows, African gray parrots and pigeons.

### Math lesson for honeybees

For the bees math test, the researchers first trained the animals to equate certain colors with an arithmetic operation: If they saw several yellow squares at the entrance to the decision chamber, this meant that they should subtract an element from it. If, on the other hand, the squares were colored blue, you had to add a square. The number of initial objects varied from one to five.

After flying through the entrance, the honey bee entered a chamber with two exits. One could see the correct solution, the other a wrong one. If the bee fell into the arm with the correct number of squares, it was rewarded with a drop of sugar water. The decisive test followed after 100 training runs: the bees were supposed to calculate with an initial set of three squares for the first time - something they had not practiced before. Would you solve the arithmetic problems correctly?

### Tasks solved!

The result: Even in the training phase, the honey bees proved to be increasingly successful. "There was a significant increase in correct decisions over the 100 runs," the researchers report. And on the final test, 60 to 70 percent of the humming test subjects decided on the right solution. “This is significantly more than just coincidence,” said Howard and her team.

According to the researchers, this demonstrates that honey bees can count. You can learn to carry out simple additions and subtractions according to given rules - and apply the rules you have learned to new quantities and forms. And there is another mental achievement: the element that the insects were supposed to add or subtract was not visible - they therefore had to carry out this arithmetic operation as an abstract concept.

### Quite useful in everyday bee life

Of course, the honeybee will rarely have to solve math problems in her everyday life. But the mental processes associated with this arithmetic ability could bring it biological advantages: “This could be useful for weighing which flower characteristics announce valuable resources when collecting nectar and which do not,” explain the researchers. If the bee can learn and apply rules, it will definitely benefit from it in everyday collecting.

However, the researchers do not yet know how bees manage to cope with such complex tasks with their rather small brain. The math skills of these insects demonstrate, however, that a large complex brain is obviously not always necessary for this. "This suggests that advanced numerical cognition may be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought," says Howard's colleague Adrian Dyer. (Science Advances, 2019; doi: 10.1126 / sciadv.aav0961)

Source: RMIT University

- Nadja Podbregar

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