Bees Seem To Understand The Number Zero
Even for human beings, the number zero is not easy to understand. Young children learn about all other numbers well before they can understand the number zero. Surprisingly there are other animals that understand the number zero, such as chimpanzees and monkeys. But certainly no insect could ever understand the concept of zero, let alone count. According to past studies, bees were able to count to the number four, despite their tiny brains. Now research shows that bees can also understand the number zero.
According to Scarlett Howard at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, bees can learn to understand sequential numbers if they are rewarded for their efforts. And not just rewarded. For some reason, bees can only learn to count, and comprehend numbers if they are also punished for being wrong during experiments. Dr. Howard set up different platforms, each one containing a different number of shapes. Eventually, after plenty of attempts, bees learned to fly towards the correct numbers that followed the researchers’ prompts. The bees, when correct, were rewarded with a sugar solution. Eventually, after the bees had learned to differentiate between four different numbers. The researchers had the bees differentiate between zero shapes and three shapes. Amazingly, eighty percent of the time, the bees were able to successfully choose the platform that represented “zero”.
Just to be sure that the bees were not merely choosing platforms based on appearance, the researchers changed the appearance of each platform that represented a particular number after each test. After this experiment, Dr. Howard and her team decided to increase the difficulty by setting up six different platforms with the hopes that the bees could properly count past the number four. However, this time around, the bees were not able to avoid mistakes. So it seems as though bees can indeed count, but only to the number four. Their ability to understand the concept of “zero”, on the other hand, was the most impressive aspect of the study.
Which other insects do you believe are intelligent enough to grasp the concept of numbers?