Despite a brain the size of a pin, bees are good at math and this has to do with the human brain. Bees understand numbers and can add or subtract. Even more abstract, they understand the concept of zero, an idea that escaped the Romans themselves. Dr. Adrian Dyer, an associate professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University), and his team, built a tiny bee school in which these remarkable insects proved to be great students in mathematics.

Humans diverged from bees around 600 million years ago, however both of them can do math. According to Dr. Dyer, "No one had thought it could be possible that a brain of less than a million neurons could do this." Fifteen years ago, scientists still believed that math was only for humans, placing us above other animals in this regard. But this assumption was wrong. In fact, many animals, including insects, can do math, and some can do it pretty well.

The RMIT research suggests that math skills - which are now hard-wired into our brain - evolved long before homo sapiens appeared on earth. This may also explain why, as revealed in previous studies, babies can instinctively pick the larger pile of objects when they have to make such a choice, much earlier than they are taught math.

Dr. Dyer and colleagues discovered another important thing from this experience. Some bees learned quickly while others took more time but, in the end, all bees got there. "That suggests it’s not necessarily such a smart thing to assume that all humans should learn maths at the same rate," said Dr. Dyer.

Many people, parents and teachers first, tend to label other people, themselves and their kids as good or bad at math. The RMIT bee school study show that probably everyone has the potential to be good at it. They just need sufficient time to learn. Starting with the bees, and the very young kids!

Picture: Carniolan Honey Bee (Wikipedia, w/Effects)