Study: honey bees understand the concept of Zero

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Study: honey bees understand concept of zero

Quote:The humble honey bee has joined the ranks of the elite club of species able to understand the concept of zero.
While most people take for granted the ability to distinguish zero on the numerical spectrum, it is in fact an advanced concept that many species find challenging to grasp – indeed, several ancient human civilisations lacked a full understanding of zero.

Maths whizzes

Now a team of Australian and French scientists have published research indicating that honey bees have succeeded where countless other species have failed.

The researchers lured free-flying bees to a wall containing white squares each featuring a different number black shapes, from two to five.

The insects were introduced to the concepts of “greater than” and “less than” before the researchers brought in two numbers the bees hadn’t yet encountered in their training – one and zero.

They were “consistently able” to distinguish zero as less than than one, according to the research, published in the academic journal Science.

Tiny brains

The findings of the study, led by Scarlett Howard, a PhD student at Melbourne’s RMIT University, raises questions around how a species that differs so much from humans can share such a complex skill, and how it benefits the tiny insect in its environment.
A honey bee’s brain has around one million neurons, or nerve cells, compared to that of a typical human being, which has 86,000 million.
The scientists have called for future research to zero in on how the bee brain processes the advanced numerical concept of zero compared to the human brain.

Goal-scoring bumblebees

A different species of bee, the bumblebee, was recently hailed for possessing “unprecedented” cognitive abilities.
Scientists at Queen Mary University London (QMUL) trained a group of bumblebees to “score goals” using a mini ball and net.
The research, published last year, put “the final nail in the coffin” of the idea that insects’ small brains mean they possess only simple learning abilities, according to the study’s co-author Professor Lars Chitta.
'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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