bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Friday, April 01, 2005

Small brain is no bar to intelligence

Honeybee brains might be tiny, but they house pretty effective memories. Researchers at the Australian National University have found that they use abstract rules to solve novel problems. Flying in tunnels bees had to remember patterns to be able to choose the right route to receive a reward:
The researchers varied the length of the tunnel to test the insects’ memory and found they could remember a pattern up to five seconds after first seeing it, showing that working memory in the honeybee was more robust than previously believed.

“Impressively, trained honeybees could even learn the order of patterns in a sequence, and choose to ‘pay attention to’, for example, only the first of two patterns in a sequence, while ‘ignoring’ the second (or vice versa) and use it to choose a correct path in the maze,” Dr Zhang said.

“They could apply that ‘knowledge of the order’ in a sequence of new patterns to make a correct choice in the maze. These results suggest a potential for greater learning abilities in honeybees than had been expected.“
The researchers say that this hints at a primitive intelligence in a small brain.

The scientific paper can be found from here.


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