Bees Can Count to Four

Bees can count! At least to four...! Previously, scientists had mainly concentrated on mammals’ mathematical skills. Professors at the Max-Planck-Institute proved in a study that honey bees can count as well.

Why is it So Unusual that Bees can Count?

There are many mammals whose intelligence has been comprehensively studied, like monkeys, dolphins, elephants, raccoons etc. Even birds like ravens and crows have proven how clever they are in tests and observations. Even though they have much smaller brains! Hold on... does brain size really have anything to do with intelligence? Wouldn’t the blue whale be more intelligent than us then?

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Photo: szefei/Shutterstock

Bees Taking Math Tests

To test bees’ math skills, the scientists set up two trays side by side. One contained two objects and the other contained only one.

Left or right?

They then released the bees. If they chose the “right” tray, the one with two objects, they were rewarded with tasty sugar water. It didn’t matter where the trays were or how they were arranged. Even objects of different colors and sizes didn’t confuse the bees.

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Illustration: Silke/

Now It Gets Tricky

After the test with one and two objects worked, the scientists kicked things up a notch. Now, the honey bees had to tell the difference between trays with two and three objects. And then trays with three and four objects. The little insects flew straight towards the right tray every time!

Honey Bee Honey Bee - Illustration: Silke/

No More Than Four

Trays with four and five objects? That was just too much for the bees. They got confused and made mistakes. But it’s still a notable achievement for these animals! And it’s not just bees that can count! The cataglyphis fortis desert ant counts its steps to find its way back home - as there are no landmarks in the desert for it to know where it is.