Some insects can count, recognize human faces, even invent languages

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Some insects can count, recognize human faces, even invent languages

Dan Nosowitz


Quote:Insects are a particularly difficult group of animals to study for these traits, because they’re just so different from us. Srour walked me through the basics of an insect’s brain, and holy god, they are so weird. Insects are extremely modular creatures, not like us at all: the easiest way to understand an insect’s nervous system is that an insect has many different sub-brains in different parts of its body, which feed into and can be controlled by a slightly larger central brain but can actually also operate separately. The antennae of an insect has its own brain. So does the mouth, the eyes, and each leg. Even if the central brain of an insect stops working, its legs still have their own sub-brains, and can keep walking. 



Quote:Unlike most insects, the honey bee is a social animal, which forces it to have many intelligent abilities that non-social insects (like, say, flies, or beetles) don’t need. And its smarts are legion: the insects are able to recognize and distinguish between human faces, a surprising trait given that it isn’t really necessary for their survival. Another one: bees can count. In an experiment, honey bees were rewarded for stopping at the third in a series of landmarks, and proved able to remember this location and to thus count. (The distance was altered, while keeping the same number of landmarks, to discourage the bees from using their sense of distance.) Further study indicated their maximum counting abilities go to about four.

Bees are capable of observation, learning, and memory to solve problems. “Every bee is entirely flower-naive at the beginning of its foraging career,” says Chittka, meaning that the bee has no instinctive knowledge about how to score nectar or pollen from flowers. That’s trouble, because flowers are wildly divergent: different flowers will need entirely different strategies to exploit, and it’s up to each individual bee to figure out how to attack each different flower.

Bees can learn new strategies for getting food from other bees, something few other insects are capable of doing...
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Why insects are more sensitive than they seem

Quote:In fact, there's mounting evidence that insects can experience a remarkable range of feelings. They can be literally buzzing with delight at pleasant surprises, or sink into depression when bad things happen that are out of their control. They can be optimistic, cynical, or frightened, and respond to pain just like any mammal would. And though no one has yet identified a nostalgic mosquito, mortified ant, or sardonic cockroach, the apparent complexity of their feelings is growing every year.
Quote:There's mounting evidence that our parallel neural setups power a number of shared cognitive abilities, too. Bees can count up to four. Cockroaches have rich social lives, and form tribes that stick together and communicate. Ants can even pioneer new tools – they can select suitable objects from their environment and apply them to a task they're trying to complete, like using sponges to carry honey back to their nest.

Quote:All this research has some unsettling implications. At the moment, insects are among the most persecuted animals on the planet, routinely killed in almost-incomprehensibly large numbers. This includes 3.5 quadrillion – 3,500,000,000,000,000 – poisoned by insecticides on US farmland each year, two trillion squashed or slammed by cars on Dutch roads, and many more that have gone uncounted.

But though there isn’t much data on the full extent of our insecticide, one thing is widely accepted – the numbers we're despatching are so vast, we're living through an "insect Armageddon", an era where insects are vanishing from the wild at an alarming rate. Three-quarters of the flying insects in German nature reserves have disappeared in the last 25 years, and one report found that 400,000 species may be facing extinction.
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(2021-12-07, 09:38 PM)Laird Wrote: Why insects are more sensitive than they seem
Great article!  Environmental changes coming from human influence are threatening the insect world.  It's as scary, or more so, than climate change.  Acts of cleverness, are acts of cleverness and reveal powerful information processing tied to understanding environmental challenges.  My experience is that bugs can be a challenge - and understand circumstances when threatened.  

Quote: "Let's say you're a bee that ends up in a spider web, and a spider is swiftly coming towards your across the web," says Lars Chittka, who leads a research group that studies bee cognition at Queen Mary, University of London. "It's not impossible that the escape responses are all triggered without any kind of emotions. But on the other hand, I find it hard to believe that this would happen without some form of fear," he says. 

Staying in a pragmatic stance, some of the impact of bug emotions may be projection from our sensory rich worlds.  The scope and range of human sensation and detection tools stand apart from bugs.  However, as to the the meanings found in ecological environments they are the same.  "About to be eaten" is no different a state of affairs for an insect or single cell organism than us.

I have thought of biting deer-flies as - savoring victory - on occasion.  Objectively, it was mostly projection of my joy in killing one before it bit me.  On the other hand, large hives of insects - I feel like their total emotions are discernable to my senses.  Hive Mind is kinda creepy.
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