Evidence for counting in insects

Abstract

Here we investigate the counting ability in honeybees by training them to receive a food reward after they have passed a specific number of landmarks. The distance to the food reward is varied frequently and randomly, whilst keeping the number of intervening landmarks constant. Thus, the bees cannot identify the food reward in terms of its distance from the hive. We find that bees can count up to four objects, when they are encountered sequentially during flight. Furthermore, bees trained in this way are able count novel objects, which they have never previously encountered, thus demonstrating that they are capable of object-independent counting. A further experiment reveals that the counting ability that the bees display in our experiments is primarily sequential in nature. It appears that bees can navigate to food sources by maintaining a running count of prominent landmarks that are passed en route, provided this number does not exceed four.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Hong Zhu for assistance. Financial support was provided by the Royal Physiographic Society, the Swedish Research council (623-2004-2903) and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science (CE0561903).

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Correspondence to Marie Dacke.

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Dacke, M., Srinivasan, M.V. Evidence for counting in insects. Anim Cogn 11, 683–689 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-008-0159-y

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Keywords

  • Counting
  • Honeybee
  • Cognition