It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Honeybees can identify a piece of paper with zero dots as “less than” a paper with a few dots. Such a feat puts the insects in a select group—including the African grey parrot, nonhuman primates, and preschool children—that can understand the concept of zero, researchers report June 7 in Science.
In past studies, researchers have shown that bees can count up to five, but whether the insects could grasp more-complex ideas, such as addition or nothingness, has been unclear. In the latest study, Avarguès-Weber and her colleagues tested the bees’ ability to comprehend the absence of a stimulus by first training the insects to consistently choose sheets of paper either with fewer or more dots by landing on a tiny platform near the paper with the dots. If the bees chose correctly, they were rewarded with a sugary drink.
The team then tested the bees’ ability to distinguish a blank piece of paper, or what the researchers call an empty set, from a sheet with one dot and found the insects chose correctly about 63 percent of the time. The behavior reveals “an understanding that an empty set is lower than one, which is challenging for some other animals,” the researchers write in the paper.
"Bees have minibrains compared with human brains—fewer than a million neurons compared with our 86 billion—yet they can understand the concept of an empty set.”
Nieder suggests honeybees, similar to humans, may have developed this ability to comprehend the absence of something as a survival advantage, to help with foraging, avoiding predation, and interacting with other bees of the same species. The absence of food or a mate is important to understand, he says.
Avarguès-Weber and her colleagues argue, however, that the bees were always rewarded when shown dots. “In the test with zero (white paper) versus an image with a few dots, the bees chose the white picture without any previous experience with such stimulus. A choice based exclusively on learning would consist in choosing an image similar to the rewarded ones, ones presenting dots,” she says.