Similarities and dissimilarities between automatic learning in bees and humans

Image of honey bees.

(Medical Xpress, Central European University) A new study shows that bees share a capacity for automatically learning the complex statistical properties often experienced in natural environments. Previously this was thought to be a visual capacity only present in humans and higher-level species, and the discovery in bees with a miniature brain inspires further improvements in AI. The study also reports that bees and humans use fundamentally different computational methods for this kind of learning, which might be one of the key reasons why humans’ superior learning abilities emerged.

Meet a bee with a very big brain

Image of shaggy bee on flower.

(New York Times) Just like mammals or birds, insect species of the same size may have different endowments inside their heads. Researchers have discovered some factors linked to brain size in back-boned animals. But in insects, the drivers of brain size have been more of a mystery. A new study has scrutinized hundreds of bee brains for patterns. Bees with specialized diets seem to have larger brains, while social behavior appears unrelated to brain size. This means when it comes to insects, the rules that have guided brain evolution in other animals may not apply.

How animals understand numbers influences their chance of survival

Image of shapes for counting.

(EurekAlert/Cell Press) From birds to bees and wolves to frogs, animals use numbers to hunt, find a mate, return to their home, and more. Honey bees, for example, can remember the number of landmarks they pass when searching for food in order to find their way back to the hive. “The last common ancestor between honey bees and us primates lived about 600 million years ago. But still, they evolved numerical competence that, in many respects, is comparable to vertebrae numerical competence.”

Common bee virus causes bees to forage prematurely

Image of honey bees with egg cells.

(University of Minnesota) A new study from the University of Minnesota found that deformed wing virus causes a honey bee’s brain to function as though the bee is older than it is. This often leads infected bees to forage prematurely, which can cause diminished spatial memory and colony failure. Additionally, these infected foragers may be more likely to spread the virus to neighboring colonies because of their disoriented state.