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October 18, 2019
Did you know bees can count?
They even understand the concept of zero, but their math skills have limits. Previously, scientists thought bees could only count to four, but new research suggests bees can understand quantities as great as five, provided they're trained with rewards and demerits.
Scientists taught honeybees to associate specific symbols with specific numbers and to distinguish between lesser and greater values. The researchers reinforced the associations with a sugary solution, while wrong answers earned a bitter solution.
For half the test bees, scientists only rewarded correct answers. Incorrect selections earned no demerits. The other half of the test group received both rewards and demerits. Each bee was made to fly to the end of a maze to make their selection and fly back to their hive to share their sugary treat. Bees that were rewarded and demerited were able to distinguish between four and larger quantities. The properly trained bees even learned that five is greater than four. Scientists published the results of their tests this week in the Journal of Experimental Biology.