Watch why bees can understand zero, but young children can't

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Note that the photo is of a drone fly pretending to be a bee. It tricks birds too.

I’m not sure if they know about zero though. :slight_smile:


This video is unavailable.

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Young children understand the concept that this video is unavailable, but only bees understand the concept that there are zero of these videos that are available.


Can’t see the video but I have read another report on what must be the same paper. As I understood it, bees can compare grey-green squares with different numbers of yellow blobs, and pick the one with more yellow blobs. This was designed to be like looking at flowers and counting them. I think they varied the side of the blobs, so the bee was not just going on the visual fraction of yellow. However, it is not clear from the experiment that the bee understood that zero was a number - just that any number of yellow blobs was better.

If you could get the bee to pick zero as a even number, then I would be impressed. But that’s probably asking a but much from Mister Buzzy.

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Video unavailable?

Let Billy Preston explain the concept instead.


Wow… I clicked through to the youtube page, and not only is the video blocked, but the entire page along with any related videos!


If you were a bee, you’d understand.


We know bees can do crazy pattern recognition, but I don’t get how this experiment proves that they understand the concept of zero, or even that they can count. It seems like they could be processing the information on the cards in other ways that would be hard to control for.

Maybe the bees are analyzing the color makeup rather than actually counting. Like “the card with the most white is best”. It would be hard to control for this kind of thing, because if the experiment is always based on determining “the lowest number”, this will tend to be correlated with things like “the most of one color”, or “the most homogenous-looking”

I guess you could make the shapes have varying sizes and colors to determine if the bees are really keying off the abstract numerical idea the card represents, rather than some other more immediately sensory property of the card.

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There’s ZERO content now, so I linked to a non-video report on the same study. Apologies to the bee community and their allies for posting the fake bee - it was identified as a bee (second time I did that)!


It’s an interesting demonstration of bee cognition, and Zero is an interesting topic in its own right, but “bees understand zero” seems like a huge overreach. The experiment just shows that bees can pick a card while avoiding dots as much as possible. If you told a toddler to leave a room, I assume they could correctly pick the exit with the fewest scary spiders on it, even if that meant a door with no scary spiders.

“Understanding zero” covers a lot of different ideas, most of which bees certainly don’t understand. There’s understanding the mechanics of using zero in addition, and multiplication, and positional numbers; understanding how it works in division, or algebra, would stump plenty of adults. You could be a PhD candidate in number theory and still learning about the subtleties of the concept.


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