Honeybees organise numbers according to their magnitude, a scientific experiment has revealed.
In a series of cognitive tests, researchers at Toulouse University found that the social insects were capable of ordering numbers not previously experienced from left to right according to their magnitude.
Prof Martin Giurfa – an expert on Experience-Dependent Plasticity in Insects. Giurfa – who headed the team of scientists – explained: “We have proven that bees are able to count to five at least. Our study also shows that they are processing information differently in their cerebral hemispheres.”
The neurobiologist underlined that the human brain works the same way in this regard.
Prof Giurfa said: “We show that bees order numbers from left to right according to their magnitude and that the location of a number on that line varies with the reference number previously trained.
“Thus, the mental number line (MNL) is a biological numeric representation that is common to the nervous system with distant evolutionary origins.”
The study – established by Prof Giurfa and four co-authors – entitled “An insect brain organizes numbers on a left-to-right mental number line” has been published by the scientific magazine PNAS.
The MNL is a form of numeric representation. It associates small and large numbers with the left and right spaces, respectively. Adult humans organise information this way.
The MNL has been considered as being influenced by cultural aspects such as if a language is written and read from left to right or the other way round.
Numerous various vertebrae are able to judge numbers. Therefore, the question of the phylogenetic origins of numerosity systems remains a matter of scientific debate.