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Who Knew that Bees are Mathematical Geniuses?

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propolisAnyone who has ever discovered the wonders of propolis will understand that bees are intelligent on a level that goes beyond mere human understanding.

Just think of the many medicinal benefits of propolis: whether it is as a protector of the hive, as a cold sore treatment or being used to fight viruses, cancers and other ailments, it is clear that the bees know something we are only just beginning to tap into.

But did you know that bees also make very capable mathematicians? If you have ever spent any time contemplating the geometric architecture of honeycomb, you may already have had intimations of this, but it has now been confirmed by science, with researches at Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology concluding that bees are able to learn the fundamentals of arithmetic.

If this conjures images of bees sitting attentively in tiny classrooms while their teacher instructs them of the basics, you would be wrong, but you would not be far off either. The RMIT actually used colour-coded mazes to teach them.

Aside from being cool—because, lets face it, bees doing maths cannot be anything but—the research could have some pretty far-reaching implications in a number of areas, including the development of artificial intelligence, a field in which scientists have so far thought that a high number of neurons were needed to simulate complex intelligence. The maths problem-solving bees appear to prove otherwise. RMIT's associate Professor Adrian Dyer said, "If maths doesn't require a massive brain, there might also be new ways for us to incorporate interactions of both long-term rules and working memory into designs and improve rapid AI learning of new problems."

What the Bees Did

Over the process of several hundred trials, the bees learnt to add or subtract one element from a number between one and five so that they could determine the correct path in a Y-shaped maze.

Those that made the right choice were rewarded with sugar water, while those that were wrong received a dose of bitter quinine.

Does this mean bees have massive brains?

No, according to Dyer, "The simple answer is 'very small'".

"A bee's brain contains around 960,000 neurons—about the same number as in the retina of one human eye. A pin head would be a very good analogy," he said.

It seems that brain size has very little to do with a bee's ability to help make one of the best cold sore treatments around!