Bees have been taught to read numbers and do maths

Could we soon be talking to bees?

Scientists say the discovery bees can understand numbers shows "communication across species" could one day be possible - even with insects.

Researchers in Australia and France have trained honeybees to recognise numbers and how much they represent.

"We take it for granted once we've learned our numbers as children, but being able to recognise what '4' represents actually requires a sophisticated level of cognitive ability," said associate professor Adrian Dyer of RMIT University in Melbourne.

"Studies have shown primates and birds can also learn to link symbols with numbers, but this is the first time we've seen this in insects."

It's a surprising finding because bees have fewer than 1 million neurons in their tiny brains - we have 86,000 times more than that.

"If bees have the capacity to learn something as complex as a human-made symbolic language, this opens up exciting new pathways for future communication across species," said Dyer.

Last year the same team of researchers discovered bees understand the concept of zero, and in February they could do basic addition and subtraction.

Other species that have shown an aptitude for math include chimpanzees, pigeons and parrots.

"Our research is laying the foundations for developing a communication system with very different animal species," Dyer wrote in an article for academic news site The Conversation.

Scientists say by analysing bee brains, they may figure out ways to make more powerful and efficeint computers.

"When we're looking for solutions to complex problems, we often find that nature has already done the job far more elegantly and efficiently," said Dyer.

"Understanding how tiny bee brains manage information opens paths to bio-inspired solutions that use a fraction of the power of conventional processing systems."

The latest research was published in journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.



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