Ordinality in honeybees

Honeybees are usually thought of as foragers, who fly flower-to-flower to collect nectar and pollen. Their flights can reach up to several kilometers from their nest, but most of the foraging activity is concentrated within a few hundred meters of their nests. To navigate their environment and find the best food sources, they use different kinds of sophisticated spatial information; and it seems they use numerical information, too. Marie Dacke and Mandyam Srinivasan trained honeybees to find food in a specific position along a series of five landmarks. These landmarks could be strips on the ground. During their flight, they learned to land after having encountered a certain number of landmarks, for example four. This demonstrated they can count up to four objects. Furthermore, bees could also count novel objects such as dots depicted on the ground, which they have never previously seen. This demonstrated that honeybees can learn a counting rule that can be transferred to novel situations.

It is reasonable to assume that spatial navigation improves from the understanding of numerical ordering.

Related scientific publication

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