We all know honey bees are intelligent creatures. The mere fact they are able to construct these elaborate hives, pollinate random fields and return home, and have an established order in the hive have all proven this fact. But, compared to humans, just how powerful is their brain? Can honey bees do functions we would normally equate with human knowledge and understanding?
Simple Math Solved
One part of the experiment was for the bees to do a simple math problem. However, since there is no clear way for bees to add or subtract, the problem was done associating addition with blue and subtraction with yellow. For instance, when the bees were shown three blue figures, the correct answer would be four. Shown the opposite in yellow, the answer would be two.
The answers to the problems were in a y-shaped maze. At the end of each arm was their reward or penalty for getting the question right or wrong. Bees were rewarded with a sugar-water solution as a reward when they were right and given a less palatable quinine solution when they were wrong.
In all, there were 14 honey bees that had to solve the problems 100 times. When all was said and done, the honey bees got the problems right between 63.6 and 72.1 percent of the time, far more than they would have achieved by just randomly traveling up one leg of the maze or the other.
Does this prove that bees can do math or was this more likely a Pavlov’s dog reaction to the treat at the end of the maze? Honestly, it may be a bit of both. We know bees can travel considerable distances and return back to the same hive over and over again. Observed honey bees have also shown a tendency to create the best possible route during their pollination runs, meaning they don’t want time or energy going out of their way to go from plant to plant before returning with the nectar. That would lead us to believe that in some way, bees are able to calculate distances, at the very least.
The ability for animals to crunch numbers so quickly has always amazed me, so this revelation about bees is not exactly surprising. If you have a cat, how many times have you seen him or her misjudge the distance from point A to point B when they jump? My guess would be never. Cats are able to complete what is, in essence, a combination of geometry and calculus to decide the actual distance, as well as the power needed to make the jump successfully, in a split second, and they do so with virtual perfection on every occasion.
So, do we believe bees can do math? Absolutely. The real question, though, is if bees are actually more intelligent than we are?!