Buzzing Mathematicians: Bees Understand Concept of Zero

Another reason has emerged proving that bees are, erm, the bee’s knees: they are the first invertebrate found to understand the concept of zero.

Zero isn’t the easiest concept to get your head around, even for humans. Young children learn the number zero later than other numbers, and frequently find it difficult identifying whether it is less than or more than 1. It is even more impressive then that bees, with their comparatively tiny brains, can understand this complex topic.

Previously it has been established that bees are capable of counting to four, and that honey bees know that the world is round and can incredibly calculate angles! But they’re not leaving their mathematics skills at that.

In a series of studies, bees were encouraged to fly towards a platform carrying fewer shapes than another one. The researchers found that the bees were able to recognise “no shapes” as being a smaller value than “some shapes.”

Bees were also found to teach other bees how to work this out for themselves, sharing their numeric wisdom with the whole colony.

Chimpanzees and some monkeys are believed to understand the concept of zero too; when taught by humans, they apparently learn to consider zero as a quantity.

Susan Healy, at the University of St Andrews, UK, commented that there have been few attempts to test whether non-primate animals can also recognise zero as a number, and that “[t]he notion that an invertebrate did it would overturn the books quite a lot.”

This new discovery has provided yet another reason to suggest that bees are among the most intelligent, as well as useful, animals. Queen Mary University of London researchers say we’re only in the early stages of understanding bee brains but that these findings make it even more vital that we protect them, especially given that bee populations have been decreasing steadily worldwide.

Although in our admiration for bees we may choose not to think of them as the “hairy vegetarian wasps” that they are, there are lots of reasons that we should celebrate and protect these furry friends.

Bees are considered to be some of the hardest working creatures on the planet, and perform some incredible tasks. For example, without bees we would have to wave goodbye to broccoli, asparagus, watermelons, almonds, blueberries and apples (to name only a few) because bee pollination is vital in the production of these foods.

Not only do bees help keep us nourished, they help keep us happy by beautifying the planet. In the words of One Green Planet, “[p]ollinating flowers and contributing to the beautification of the planet’s floral landscapes may be the bees’ perhaps simplest and least economically important actions, but it’s certainly its most aesthetically pleasing one.”

Although, given their mathematically geared brains, maybe bees are overqualified for these gardening roles.

All in all, one thing is pretty clear: bees are amazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzing.

To learn more about why bees are so invaluable, and what you can do to protect them, click here!