The oval-shaped brain of a honeybee is roughly the size of a single sesame seed. It contains fewer than 1 million neurons, while the human brain contains 100 billion.
A team of entomologists is asking what all these extra nerve cells are good for after finding that bees can do the kind of vital math once thought to distinguish humans and the primate animals they most closely resemble.
Many animals display some degree of quantitative understanding as they feed and fight, hoard and hide and find their way home. Counting, for example, is pervasive.
But bees can do something more, according to a paper published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed Science Advances journal. They can add and deduce, placing one of the world's leading pollinators in the honorable company of the beers, parrots and, yes, spiders ̵
The findings add to the growing body of evidence that the brains of insects are more powerful than once thought-able not only of a vague numerical sense, but of kind of learning and complex memory tasks that make arithmetic possible. Scarlett Howard, the paper's lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at the University of Newcastle, said that "A small biological processing system can perform quite complex things," said Scarlett Howard. The French National Center for Scientific Research
The small neural network employed by bees, she said in an interview with The Washington Post, points to a possible alternative to high-energy computing, suggesting that artificial intelligence should seek to model natural systems "That has evolved in complex and challenging environments."
The research builds on the discovery of the same researchers in the past year that the bees do not understand anything, that is, the concept of nothing. The authors reported that the bees trained to perceive the notions of " greater than "and" less than "were also able to order zero at the beginning of a numerical continuum – a capacity that put them on the same plane as the African gray parrot, notable for its ability to copy human speech, as well as non-human primates and even pre-school children.
In a new study, conducted last year at the Royal Melbourne Technology Institute in southeast Australia, the researchers devised a Y-shaped maze to train 14 bees to add and subtract.
The first sight encountered by the insects was a sample of one, two, four or five shapes – never three. The shapes, rendered in either blue or yellow, were squares, diamonds, circles, or triangles.
Then, they flew into a "decision chamber," they came face-to-face with two new sets of shapes.  If the shapes were blue, the right choice in the decision chamber was the option with one element larger than the original sample. If the shapes were yellow then the right move for the bite would be flying option option with the one element less than the sample
They were rewarded with a sugary solution for correct answers and punished with a bitter-tasting substance for misfires.
At first, the insects made random decisions. But over 100 trials each, the bees came to understand when they were supposed to choose the +1 or the option 1.
For the task required two cognitive feats at once: long-term recollection of the color rule and shorter-term analysis of the unusual number of shapes.
Though every bee seemed to learn diff "The population showed signs of mastery somewhere between the 40th and 70th tests," Howard said. Over the time, the bees were put to the test, faced with a shape they never saw before, as well as a novel number of sample elements, three. Each bee performed four tests, each consisting of 10 trips through the maze. Howard said, in each test, conducted without punishments or rewards, the bees performed significantly better than chance.
They did not seem to have mastered one command better than the other, although other species showed signs of favoring addition. She added that the results were conclusive enough that they felt confident with their hive of 14 bees. Eight to 12 is considered statistically sound, she said.
The new evidence of honeybee's computational skills comes as its numbers dwindle under mounting threats from pests and pathogens. Beekeepers in the United States lost 40 percent of their managed colonies between spring 2017 and spring 2018 in line with the wider decline in the population of the invertebrates that scientists have linked to climate change.
The discovery holds applications beyond activities of honeybees alone.
"A honeybee brain contains less than 1 million neurons, so the evidence that a bee can learn to use a mathematical operator is very important for our understanding of how big brains, like ours, could possibly have evolved into "said Adrian Dyer, one of the study's authors and an expert on imaging and information processing at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
The discovery casts doubt on the idea that numerical understanding is innate to humans who are separated from honeybees by more than 400 million years of evolution, as the paper notes. The result suggests instead that bees, nonhuman animals and preverbal people can be "biologically tuned for complex numerical tasks," a capacity honed through the struggle for survival in "complex environments that have forced them to use numbers and quantify," said Howard.
"We're not the only sophisticated ones," she said.
More from Morning Mix:
A 13-year-old died after being told to not take insulin. Now the herbalist is headed to jail
Bump-stock ban enacted by Trump administration can stand federal judge rules
Mother and daughter charged in 'atrocious' killing of five family members in Pennsylvania