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Bees are able to match symbols to numbers

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Bees are able to match symbols to numbers



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Although studied for many years, bees continue to astonish scientists by the extent of their cognitive abilities. After discovering that they understand the concept of zero and are able to perform basic mathematical operations, a new study reveals that bees also know how to correctly match symbols to
numerical quantities.

The researchers trained bees to match a symbol to a specific quantity, revealing that they are able to learn that a symbol represents a numerical quantity. This discovery, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, sheds new light on how digital capabilities have evolved over the millennia and opens up new possibilities for communication between humans and other species.
The discovery, made by the same Franco-Australian team who discovered that bees understand the concept of zero and can perform simple calculations, also represents a new approach for bio-inspired computing that can reproduce the highly efficient processing of information. by the brain.

Combining symbols with numbers: a first for insects

As per Associate Professor Adrian Dyer, while people were the main species to have created frameworks to speak to numbers, like the Arabic numerals we use every day, research shows that the concept can be grasped by many brains smaller than ours.
"We take this for granted once we have learned our numbers as children, but being able to recognize what 4 represents, for example, actually requires a sophisticated level of cognitive abilities," says Dyer. "Studies have shown that primates and birds can also learn to associate symbols with numbers, but this is the first time we see this in insects."

Lors d’expériences précédentes, les chercheurs ont démontré que les abeilles maîtrisaient des concepts mathématiques basiques comme le zéro. Sur cette image, une abeille choisit un ensemble vide, correspondant à la valeur zéro.  Crédits : Scarlett Howard/RMIT University

"Humans have more than 86 billion neurons in their brains, bees have fewer than a million, and we're separated by more than 600 million years of evolution. But if bees have the ability to learn something as complex as a human-created symbolic language, it opens exciting new avenues for future communication between species. "
Studies have demonstrated that various non-human creatures have discovered that images can speak to numbers, including pigeons, parrots, chimpanzees and monkeys. Some of their exploits were impressive - the chimpanzees learned the Arabic numerals and were able to organize them properly, while a gray parrot from Gabon named Alex was able to learn the names of the numbers and sum up the quantities.

Bees trained to map symbols to numerical quantities

The new study shows for the first time that this complex cognitive capacity is not limited to vertebrates. The experiment on bees was conducted by Dr. Scarlett Howard, researcher at RMIT's Bio Inspired Digital Detection Laboratory (BIDS-Lab) and currently a member of the Animal Cognition Research Center at Toulouse III University - Paul Sabatier .



Schéma décrivant le protocole expérimental utilisé par les chercheurs. Crédits : Scarlett R. Howard et al. 2019

In a Y-shaped labyrinth, bees have been trained to match a symbol to several elements. They were then tested to see if they could apply their new knowledge to match the symbol to different items of the same amount (in the same way that 

While the two gatherings had the option to accomplish their particular objective effectively, they were unfit to turn around the affiliation and figure out what to do when tried with the inverse (number or number image). image).
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