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Among the Many Talents of the Humble Honey Bee: Arithmetic

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Honey bees are capable of understanding complex arithmetic, according to a new study published Wednesday.

Scientists discovered that bees can “learn to use blue and yellow as symbolic representations for addition or subtraction,” according to the report published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.

While many animals demonstrate an understanding of basic numbers for tasks such as foraging, shoaling, and resource management, more complex math can be done only by a limited number of nonhuman vertebrates.

The findings are significant because honey bees and humans are separated by more than 400 million years of evolution, meaning that “advanced numerical cognition may be more accessible to nonhuman animals than previously suspected,” the study found.

Scientists created an experiment using mazes to test whether 14 bees could use yellow and blue to add and subtract. The study found that the bees got the right answer 63% to 72% of the time.

While the testing pool was small, the findings are significant given that brains of bees are 20,000 times smaller than those of humans. According to Science magazine, this could lead to new approaches to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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