Research Finds that Bees Can Count!
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Research Finds that Bees Can Count!

According to researchers at Queen Mary University, it is a proven fact that bees can easily solve various counting challenges with a small number of nerve cells in their brains.

In order to understand how bees can count, researchers simulated a very simple miniature “brain” on a computer with only four never cells which are a great deal less than what bees actually have.

The “brain” easily counted small quantities of items when closely inspecting one at a time before moving on to the next one.  This was emulating exactly how bees count, which is completely different from humans who can glance at all the items and then count them as a total.

In a recent study, researchers proposed that this clever behavior makes the task of counting much easier, allowing bees to show impressive rational abilities while using minimal brainpower.

Other studies revealed that bees have the ability to count up to 5 items at a time.  They can choose smaller or larger numbers from a group or even choose zero when trained to choose less.

It is believed that bees do not understand the concept of numbers but using specific flight movements to closely inspect items which then shapes their visual input thereby simplifying the job to the point where it takes very little brainpower.

This study revealed that a bee’s intelligence, as well as other animals, can be affected by a small number of nerve cells, as long as they are wired together properly.  Also, the study may have implications for AI or artificial intelligence that efficient independent robots will need to rely on for strong calculations and inexpensive algorithms.

There could be added benefits by employing insect-inspired scanning behaviors.

Dr. Vera Vasas, Queen Mary University of London, said their model showed that even though it has been believed that in order to count, it takes a high intelligence and a larger brain, but instead it can be done with a small number of nerve cell circuits connected the right way.

Visual “Numbers”

Dr. Vasas suggests that using a specific flight movement to scan a target instead of a numerical concept, could explain the bees’ abilities to count.  This scanning simplifies the visual input which means something like counting takes little brainpower.

By carefully examining the strategies used by animals to inspect items may reveal they use active scanning behaviors to simplify difficult visual patterns to discriminate tasks.  Their work might just inspire others to look more closely at plausible tasks animals can solve but how they go about solving them.

Bees only have one million nerve cells in comparison to humans who have 86 billion nerve cells. The human uses nerve cells for receiving information and sending commands.  The brain size of a bee means a great deal to these insects to implement efficient computational algorithms to solve various tasks.

As a bee does not have a great deal of brainpower, the team had to analyze the point of view of a bee as it flies close to the item to be counted and then inspects them one by one. Through their research, the simulated brain showed it was able to make reliable estimates on a number of items when provided with the visual input that a bee is receiving while carrying out their tasks.

Professor Lars Chittka, from Queen Mary University and leader of the research team, said the findings enhance the growing body of work showing that intelligent behavior does not require a large brain.  Instead, it can be small neural circuits that can be easily accommodated into the microcomputer that is the brain of a bee.

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