Honey bee

Humans often believe that most of the animals and insects have a very low level of cognitive ability. But a new study, conducted by a team of French and Australian researchers, have suggested that humans may be probably wrong in underestimating the intelligence level of insects, as bees understand the concept of zero.

This new study report was published in journal Science Daily. Prior to this finding, scientists believed that only dolphins, monkeys, birds, and humans could understand the concept of zero but now this recent research has revealed that honeybees are capable of understanding the same concept.

"Zero is a difficult concept to understand and a mathematical skill that doesn't come easily it takes children a few years to learn. We've long believed only humans had the intelligence to get the concept, but recent research has shown monkeys and birds have the brains for it as well. What we haven't known, until now, is whether insects can also understand zero," said Adrian Dyer, a researcher at RMIT University in Melbourne and the co-author of the study in a recently issued statement.

Scientists selected honeybees for this research as these insects had previously shown their ability to understand abstract concepts including sameness and difference. However, a bee brain has only 1 million neurons when compared to the 86,000 million neurons in the human brain. This factor made the researchers doubtful about whether a bee would be able to understand such a complex numeric skill.

During the research, bees were trained to choose an image with the lowest number of elements and the entire process was designed in such a way that if they pick the correct option then a sugar crystal will be given to them as a reward.

When the researchers took the test with an image that contained no elements versus an image that had one or more, they saw that honeybees were able to understand that the set of zero was the lower number.

Aurore Avargues-Weber, a CNRS researcher with the University of Toulouse said that it is even difficult for the young children to understand the concept of zero, as they learn beginning counting from one. As per the co-author of this study Aurore, larger brains are not a pre-requisite for mastering the concept of complex numerals.

"It's easy for them to count 'one, two, three, four,' but zero, it's nothing, it's not something to count. So it's not the same category. The discovery that bees can show such elaborated understanding of numbers was really surprising given their tiny brain. Large brains are thus not necessary to play with numbers. This capacity is therefore probably shared by many other animals," Aurore said.