The Loh Down On Science

Counting Bees

Here's the buzz on bees that can count.

Forget spelling bees! What about a bee that counts? This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, and with a finding that has scientists buzzing.

Researchers from the Australian National University and Germany's Wurzburg University claim to have the first evidence of number sense in an invertebrate.

The spineless specimens? Honeybees.

The researchers had honeybees enter the base of a Y-shaped maze, which was marked with a pattern of either two or three dots. At the end of one of the Y's two arms was a hidden sugar-water treat. An arm with the same number of dots as the entrance. The other arm had a different number.

To get a goody, the bees had to count the dots at the entrance, then count again before heading down the arm with the matching number.

And? Sweet success! Even if the dots' color, shape, or pattern differed, once bees knew they needed to count, they zipped right to their treat.

The bees could tell the difference between two and three dots, and three and four dots. Above that? Not so much.

But hey, "relatively" speaking, even Einstein had his limits.

Relatively.


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