Bee Mathletes

What’s smarter than a talking horse? A spelling bee?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Besides making honey, honeybees can communicate with dance, and even count! What CAN’T they do?

Scarlett Howard from the Université de Toulouse BEE-searched this question.

She tried to train bees to associate a numerical symbol with an amount. For example, she showed them a capital “N” – representing the number two. Then they were shown two new signs. One had two circles on it, one had three.

Landing on the correct sign earned the bees a sugary reward. It was trial and error. But could they actually learn what number the symbol meant?

Amazingly, after enough training, the bees picked the right amount about TWO THIRDS of the time! Not bad for an insect brain!

But here’s where Howard found a limit to their brainpower. A bee COULD learn that an “N” symbol means two circles. But when shown two circles FIRST, it didn’t always pick the right symbol!

I guess bees are pretty smart, kids — but don’t count on them to help you with AP Calculus.