Hive Minds

We’ve all heard of spelling bees. Now it turns out they can count, too.

According to this article, researchers at Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science have demonstrated that bees can follow signposts in a maze according to how many markings make up the patterns they display. Here is the abstract of the team’s recently published paper:

Although the numerical abilities of many vertebrate species have been investigated in the scientific literature, there are few convincing accounts of invertebrate numerical competence. Honeybees, Apis mellifera, by virtue of their other impressive cognitive feats, are a prime candidate for investigations of this nature. We therefore used the well-established delayed match-to-sample paradigm, to test the limits of honeybees’ ability to match two visual patterns solely on the basis of the shared number of elements in the two patterns. Using a y-maze, we found that bees can not only differentiate between patterns containing two and three elements, but can also use this prior knowledge to differentiate three from four, without any additional training. However, bees trained on the two versus three task could not distinguish between higher numbers, such as four versus five, four versus six, or five versus six. Control experiments confirmed that the bees were not using cues such as the colour of the exact configuration of the visual elements, the combined area or edge length of the elements, or illusory contours formed by the elements. To our knowledge, this is the first report of number-based visual generalisation by an invertebrate.

Next they’ll be making quilts.


  1. JK says


    This is not the first observation of an in, what (sorry I had to copy and paste) invertebrate counting. Heck, WWI Generals received awards – for this all the time.

    Now – normally I’d put it down as I see it but Dr. Duff PhD, Professor of “Invertebrate Numerology” has attempted many publications of (doggone it I’m afraid pf this plurality) – octopii maybe? Anyway, Dr. Duff insists some invertebrates can count to ten.

    Dr. Duff PhD insists, “If octopussies could take their socks off, I honestly believe they could count to twenty.”

    This came from a scientific study and we if the Bible-Belt wouldn’t normally accept such, but we do like James Bond movies.

    Just thank whatever it’s not Gnostic Gospels.

    Posted February 2, 2009 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Kevin Kim says

    If you enjoy the topic of distributed intelligence, you might get a kick out of Michael Crichton’s Prey.


    Posted February 3, 2009 at 12:45 am | Permalink

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