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Western (European) Honey Bee - Apis mellifera
Creeper Wrote:Western (European) Honey Bee - Apis mellifera

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Scientific classification
Species:Apis mellifera

The western honey bee or European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a species of honey bee. The genus name Apis is Latin for "bee", and mellifera means "honey-bearing". As of October 28, 2006, the Honey Bee Genome Sequencing Consortium fully sequenced and analyzed the genome of Apis mellifera. Since 2007, attention has been devoted to colony collapse disorder, a decline in European honey bee colonies in a number of regions.

Geographic Distribution
The western honey bee is native to Europe, Asia and Africa. During the early 1600s it was introduced to North America, with other European subspecies introduced two centuries later. Since then, it has spread throughout the Americas.
Western honey bees evolved into geographic races as they spread from Africa into Eurasia, and 28 subspecies based on these geographic variations are recognized. All races are cross-fertile, although reproductive adaptations may make interbreeding unlikely. The subspecies are divided into four major branches, based on work by Ruttner and confirmed by mitochondrial DNA analysis. African subspecies belong to branch A, northwestern European subspecies branch M, southwestern European subspecies branch C and Mideastern subspecies branch O. These subspecies are listed and grouped in the sidebar. Regions with local variations may be identified as subspecies in the future; A. m. pomonella, from the Tian Shan, would be included in the Mideastern subspecies branch.
Geographic isolation led to adaptation as honey bees spread after the last ice age. These adaptations include brood cycles synchronized to the blooming period of local flora, forming a winter cluster in colder climates, migratory swarming in Africa and enhanced foraging behavior in desert areas.

Biology & Reproduction 
In the temperate zone honey bees survive winter as a colony, and the queen begins egg-laying in mid- to late winter in preparation for spring (probably triggered by day length). The only fertile female, she lays the eggs from which all the other bees are produced. Except for a brief periods (when she may fly to mate with drones or leave in later life with a swarm to establish a new colony), the queen rarely leaves the hive after the larvae have become bees. She deposits each egg in a cell prepared by worker bees. The egg hatches into a small larva fed by "nurse" bees (worker bees who maintain the interior of the colony). After about a week, the larva is sealed in its cell by the nurse bees and begins its pupal stage. After another week, it emerges as an adult bee.
For the first ten days of their lives, female worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae. After this, they begin building comb cells. On days 16 through 20, workers receive nectar and pollen from older workers and store it. After the 20th day, a worker leaves the hive and spends the remainder of its life as a forager. The average population of a healthy hive in midsummer may be as high as 40,000 to 80,000 bees. The larvae and pupae in a frame of honeycomb are known as "frames of brood", and are sold (with adhering bees) to start new beehives.
Workers and queens are fed royal jelly during the first three days of their larval stage. Workers are then switched to a diet of pollen and nectar (or diluted honey), while queens will continue to receive royal jelly (which helps large, sexually developed larvae reach the pupal stage more quickly). Queen breeders consider good nutrition during the larval stage critically important for queen quality, with good genetics and sufficient mating contributing factors. During the larval and pupal stages, parasites may damage (or destroy) the pupa or larva.
Queens are not raised in the typical horizontal brood cells of the honeycomb. A queen cell is larger and oriented vertically. If workers sense that an old queen is weakening, they produce emergency cells (known as supersedure cells) made from cells with eggs or young larvae and which protrude from the comb. When the queen finishes her larval feeding and pupates, she moves into a head-downward position and later chews her way out of the cell. At pupation, workers cap (seal) the cell. Shortly before emerging from their cells, young queens may often be heard "piping". The queen makes this sound to evaluate her space, and piping seems to calm worker bees.
Although worker bees are usually infertile females, when some subspecies are stressed they may lay fertile eggs. Since workers are not fully sexually developed, they do not mate with drones. Fertile eggs would be haploid (having only the genetic contribution of their mother), and these haploid eggs would always develop into drones. Worker bees secrete the wax used to build the hive, clean, maintain and guard it, raise the young and forage for nectar and pollen.
Worker honey bees have a modified ovipositor, a stinger, with which they defend the hive; unlike bees of any other genus and the queens of their own species, this stinger is barbed. Contrary to popular belief, a bee does not always die soon after stinging; this misconception is based on the fact that a bee will usually die after stinging a human or other mammal. The stinger and its venom sac, with musculature and a ganglion allowing them to continue delivering venom after they are detached, are designed to pull free of the body when they lodge. This apparatus (including barbs on the stinger) is thought to have evolved in response to predation by vertebrates, since the barbs do not function (and the stinger apparatus does not detach) unless the stinger is embedded in elastic material. The barbs do not always "catch", so a bee may occasionally pull its stinger free and fly off unharmed (or sting again).

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Drones are the colony's male bees. Since they do not have ovipositors, they do not have stingers. Drone honey bees do not forage for nectar or pollen. The primary purpose of a drone is to fertilize a new queen. Many drones will mate with a given queen in flight; each will die immediately after mating, since the process of insemination requires a lethally convulsive effort. Drone honey bees are haploid (single, unpaired chromosomes) in their genetic structure, and are descended only from their mother (the queen). In temperate regions drones are generally expelled from the hive before winter, dying of cold and starvation since they cannot forage, produce honey or care for themselves. There has been research into the role A. mellifera drones play in thermoregulation within the hive. Given their larger size (1.5x), drones may play a significant role. Drones are typically located near the center of hive clusters for unclear reasons. It is postulated that it is to maintain sperm viability, which drops off at cooler temperatures. Another possible explanation posed, is that a more central location allows drones to contribute to warmth, since at temperatures below 25C their ability to contribute declines.

Life Expectancy
Although the average lifespan of a queen in most subspecies is three to five years, reports from the German-European black bee subspecies previously used for beekeeping indicate that a queen can live up to eight years. Because a queen's store of sperm is depleted near the end of her life, she begins laying more unfertilized eggs; for this reason, beekeepers often replace queens every year or two.
The lifespan of workers varies considerably over the year in regions with long winters. Workers born in spring and summer will work hard, living only a few weeks, but those born in autumn will remain inside for several months as the colony clusters. On average during the year, about one percent of a colony's worker bees die naturally per day.[7] Except for the queen, all of a colony's workers are replaced about every four months.

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Honey Production
Bees produce honey by collecting nectar, a clear liquid consisting of nearly 80 percent water and complex sugars. The collecting bees store the nectar in a second stomach and return to the hive, where worker bees remove the nectar. The worker bees digest the raw nectar for about 30 minutes, using enzymes to break down the complex sugars into simpler ones. Raw honey is then spread in empty honeycomb cells to dry, reducing its water content to less than 20 percent. When nectar is being processed, honey bees create a draft through the hive by fanning with their wings. When the honey has dried, the honeycomb cells are sealed (capped) with wax to preserve it.
When a hive detects smoke, many bees become nonaggressive; this is thought to be a defense mechanism. Wild colonies generally live in hollow trees; when they detect smoke, they are thought to prepare to evacuate from a forest fire with as much food as they can. To do this, they go to the nearest honey-storage cells and gorge on honey. In this state they are docile, since defending against predation is less important than saving as much food as possible.

The honey bee needs an internal body temperature of 35 °C (95 °F) to fly; this temperature is maintained in the nest to develop the brood, and is the optimal temperature for the creation of wax. The temperature on the periphery of the cluster varies with outside air temperature, and the winter cluster's internal temperature may be as low as 20–22 °C (68–72 °F).
Honey bees can forage over a 30 °C (54 °F) air-temperature range because of behavioral and physiological mechanisms for regulating the temperature of their flight muscles. From low to high air temperatures, the mechanisms are: shivering before flight, and stopping flight for additional shivering; passive body-temperature regulation based on work, and evaporative cooling from regurgitated honey-sac contents. Body temperatures differ, depending on caste and expected foraging rewards.
The optimal air temperature for foraging is 22–25 °C (72–77 °F). During flight, the bee's relatively large flight muscles create heat which must dissipate. The honey bee uses evaporative cooling to release heat through its mouth. Under hot conditions, heat from the thorax is dissipated through the head; the bee regurgitates a droplet of warm internal fluid — a "honeycrop droplet" – which reduces the temperature of its head by 10 °C (18 °F).
Below 7–10 °C (45–50 °F) bees are immobile, and above 38 °C (100 °F) their activity slows. Honey bees can tolerate temperatures up to 50 °C (122 °F) for short periods.

Periodically, the colony determines that a new queen is needed. There are three general causes:
The hive is filled with honey, leaving little room for new eggs. This will trigger a swarm, where the old queen will take about half the worker bees to found a new colony and leave the new queen with the other half of the workers to continue the old one.
The old queen begins to fail, which is thought to be demonstrated by a decrease in queen pheromones throughout the hive. This is known as supersedure, and at the end of the supersedure the old queen is generally killed.
The old queen dies suddenly, a situation known as emergency supersedure. The worker bees find several eggs (or larvae) of the appropriate age range and attempt to develop them into queens. Emergency supersedure can generally be recognized because new queen cells are built out from comb cells, instead of hanging from the bottom of a frame.
Regardless of the trigger, workers develop the larvae into queens by continuing to feed them royal jelly (which triggers extended pupal development).
When the virgin queen emerged, she was thought to seek out other queen cells and sting the infant queens within; should two queens emerge simultaneously, they were thought to fight to the death. However, recent research has indicated as many as 10 percent of Apis mellifera colonies may maintain two queens. Although the mechanism by which this occurs is not yet known, it has reportedly occurred more frequently in some South African subspecies. The queen asserts control over the worker bees by releasing a complex suite of pheromones known as queen scent.
After several days of orientation in and around the hive, the young queen flies to a drone congregation point – a site near a clearing and generally about 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground – where drones from different hives congregate. They detect the presence of a queen in their congregation area by her smell, find her by sight and mate with her in midair; drones can be induced to mate with "dummy" queens with the queen pheromone. A queen will mate multiple times, and may leave to mate several days in a row (weather permitting) until her spermatheca is full.
The queen lays all the eggs in a healthy colony. The number and pace of egg-laying is controlled by weather, resource availability and specific racial characteristics. Queens generally begin to slow egg-laying in the early fall, and may stop during the winter. Egg-laying generally resumes in late winter when the days lengthen, peaking in the spring. At the height of the season, the queen may lay over 2,500 eggs per day (more than her body mass).
She fertilizes each egg (with stored sperm from the spermatheca) as it is laid in a worker-sized cell. Eggs laid in drone-sized (larger) cells are left unfertilized; these unfertilized eggs, with half as many genes as queen or worker eggs, develop into drones.

Action is being taken against neonicotinoid pesticides to protect our pollinators, including honey bees which have been experiencing a major decline over the last few decades.
Quote:EPA Restricts Use of Pesticides Suspected of Killing Bees
The EPA has issued a moratorium on use of a type of pesticide theorized to be responsible for plummeting bee populations. Neonicotinoids are a class of common pesticides that recent research has pointed to as being harmful to birds, bees and other animals. The EPA previously approved their use, but outcry over the damage being done has caused the agency to reverse course while more studies are done. On Thursday, the EPA sent letters to people and companies that have applied for outdoor use of the pesticide, saying that new use permits won't be issued.

New uses of neonicotinoids will no long be approved "until the data on pollinator health have been received and appropriate risk assessments completed," the EPA letter reads. Existing permits to use them, however, will not be rescinded — something wildlife and environmental advocacy groups are unhappy with.

"If EPA is unable to assess the safety of new uses, the agency similarly is not able to assess the safety of the close to 100 outdoor uses already approved," said the Center for Food Safety's Peter Jenkins in a statement criticizing the EPA's actions. Other organizations of beekeepers, environmentalists, and farmers echoed the sentiment.

Though it isn't calling an end to all uses of neonicotinoids, the EPA says in its letter that it is taking the problem seriously: "EPA considers the completion of the new pollinator risk assessments for these chemicals to be an agency priority."

Quote:Lowe's to Stop Selling Neonic Pesticides Linked to Bee Deaths
Lowe's plans to stop selling pesticides linked to the massive decline of honeybees around the world. The home improvement chain announced on Thursday that it would phase out products containing neonic pesticides over the next four years. In recent years, billions of bees have died from a condition known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) and neonicotinoids have been linked in multiple studies to the deaths of birds, bees and other animals. Lowe's announcement comes after the EPA said last week that it would stop issuing new permits to use the pesticides. On Wednesday, a report from an influential European scientific council warned that neonicotinoids were more harmful to the environment than previously thought.

Lowe's also said that it would work with growers to "eliminate the use of neonic pesticides on bee-attractive plants we sell." Home Depot announced last summer that it would label plants treated with neonicotinoids. Both companies have been the target of protests by environmental activists. The environmental group Friends of the Earth said it was "pleased Lowe's is listening to consumer concerns" and the "growing body of science telling us we need to move away from bee-toxic pesticides."

Here is a bit more on Colony Collapse Disorder, though the condition is not fully understood.

Quote:Despite getting fewer headlines in recent years, the population of U.S. honeybees has continued to plunge, with billions dying each year from a condition known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The demise of the bees is now raising greater concerns about the cost to the nation's food supply and the sustainability of the beekeeping industry itself.

Part of the problem, according to a new report by the Department of Agriculture, is that finding a specific cause of CCD remains elusive.

"It's like a perfect storm of reasons," said Kim Kalpan, a public affairs spokesperson for the research service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We've eliminated that it's one single cause. We're looking at several causes, including parasites, poor nutrition for the bees, viruses and drought conditions," Kaplan said. "We just don't know what it is at this point.

CCD has been around in the U.S. since 2006, when more than one quarter of the 2.4 million honey bee colonies were lost. Each year, more and more bees die.
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Starvation as babies makes bees stronger as adults
New insights into colony collapse disorder

Date: March 30, 2016
Source: Arizona State University

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ASU researchers have discovered that short-term starvation as larvae (baby bees) actually makes honeybees more resilient to nutritional deprivation as adults. This is the first time that an anticipatory mechanism, called "predictive adaptive response," has been found in social organisms.
Credit: Photo by Christofer Bang

A lack of adequate nutrition is blamed as one of many possible causes for colony collapse disorder or CCD -- a mysterious syndrome that causes a honey bee colony to die. Parasites, pesticides, pathogens and environmental changes are also stressors believed responsible for the decline of honey bees.

Since bees are critical to the world's food supply, learning how bees cope with these stressors is critical to understanding honey bee health and performance.

In two new studies, researchers from Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences have discovered that the stress of short-term nutritional deprivation as larvae (baby bees) actually makes honey bees more resilient to starvation as adults.

"Surprisingly, we found that short-term starvation in the larval stage makes adult honey bees more adaptive to adult starvation. This suggests that they have an anticipatory mechanism like solitary organisms do," said Ying Wang, assistant research professor with the school and lead author of the two investigations. Wang said they found evidence of this mechanism in several areas such as behavior, endocrine physiology, metabolism and gene regulation.

The anticipatory mechanism, also called "predictive adaptive response," explains a possible correlation between prenatal nutritional stress and adult metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes in humans. Yet, Athese findings show for the first time that social organisms can have this mechanism.

Since most research on bee nutrition has focused on using adult honey bees, rather than their young, this new information changes the current understanding of colony collapse disorder and provides new avenues to study.

The findings are published in two papers appearing today in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Interestingly, Wang and her colleagues also found that when bees experienced starvation as larvae, they could reduce their metabolic rate, maintain their blood sugar levels, and use other fuels faster than the control bees during starvation. This increased the probability of their survival under a starvation situation.

"These studies show how the fundamental physiology of animals separated by hundreds of millions of years of evolution maintain central, common features that allow us to learn more about ourselves from studying them and about them by looking to ourselves," said Rob Page, University Provost Emeritus and co-author of the paper. "They reveal key features of honey bee physiology that may help us find solutions to the serious problems of bee health world wide."

Managed honey bee colonies have declined worldwide, down to 2.5 million today from 5 million in the 1940s. This comes at a time when the global demand for food is rising to meet the nutrition needs of 7.4 billion people. Since multiple stressors are negatively impacting bee health, Wang's new findings may provide a different strategy to help solve the problem of colony collapse disorder.

"Manipulations during development may be able to increase the bees' resistance to different stressors, much like how an immunization works," added Wang. "However, we are at a starting point with this new discovery and we will have many questions to be answered."

Researchers from Arizona State University; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Arid-Land Research Center; and the University of Life Sciences, Aas, Norway, participated in the studies.

Story Source: Arizona State University. "Starvation as babies makes bees stronger as adults: New insights into colony collapse disorder." ScienceDaily. (accessed April 1, 2016).

Journal References:
Y. Wang, O. Kaftanoglu, C. S. Brent, R. E. Page, G. V. Amdam. Starvation stress during larval development facilitates an adaptive response in adult worker honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Journal of Experimental Biology, 2016; 219 (7): 949 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.130435

Most organisms are constantly faced with environmental changes and stressors. In diverse organisms, there is an anticipatory mechanism during development that can program adult phenotypes. The adult phenotype would be adapted to the predicted environment that occurred during organism maturation. However, whether this anticipatory mechanism is present in eusocial species is questionable because eusocial organisms are largely shielded from exogenous conditions by their stable nest environment. In this study, we tested whether food deprivation during development of the honey bee (Apis mellifera), a eusocial insect model, can shift adult phenotypes to better cope with nutritional stress. After subjecting fifth instar worker larvae to short-term starvation, we measured nutrition-related morphology, starvation resistance, physiology, endocrinology and behavior in the adults. We found that the larval starvation caused adult honey bees to become more resilient toward starvation. Moreover, the adult bees were characterized by reduced ovary size, elevated glycogen stores and juvenile hormone (JH) titers, and decreased sugar sensitivity. These changes, in general, can help adult insects survive and reproduce in food-poor environments. Overall, we found for the first time support for an anticipatory mechanism in a eusocial species, the honey bee. Our results suggest that this mechanism may play a role in honey bee queen–worker differentiation and worker division of labor, both of which are related to the responses to nutritional stress.

Y. Wang, J. B. Campbell, O. Kaftanoglu, R. E. Page, G. V. Amdam, J. F. Harrison. Larval starvation improves metabolic response to adult starvation in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.). Journal of Experimental Biology, 2016; 219 (7): 960 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.136374

Environmental changes during development have long-term effects on adult phenotypes in diverse organisms. Some of the effects play important roles in helping organisms adapt to different environments, such as insect polymorphism. Others, especially those resulting from an adverse developmental environment, have a negative effect on adult health and fitness. However, recent studies have shown that those phenotypes influenced by early environmental adversity have adaptive value under certain (anticipatory) conditions that are similar to the developmental environment, though evidence is mostly from morphological and behavioral observations and it is still rare at physiological and molecular levels. In the companion study, we applied a short-term starvation treatment to fifth instar honey bee larvae and measured changes in adult morphology, starvation resistance, hormonal and metabolic physiology and gene expression. Our results suggest that honey bees can adaptively respond to the predicted nutritional stress. In the present study, we further hypothesized that developmental starvation specifically improves the metabolic response of adult bees to starvation instead of globally affecting metabolism under well-fed conditions. Here, we produced adult honey bees that had experienced a short-term larval starvation, then we starved them for 12 h and monitored metabolic rate, blood sugar concentrations and metabolic reserves. We found that the bees that experienced larval starvation were able to shift to other fuels faster and better maintain stable blood sugar levels during starvation. However, developmental nutritional stress did not change metabolic rates or blood sugar levels in adult bees under normal conditions. Overall, our study provides further evidence that early larval starvation specifically improves the metabolic responses to adult starvation in honey bees. 
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Left or right? Like humans, bees have a preference

November 2, 2017

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Honeybee (Apis mellifera) landing on a milk thistle flower (Silybum marianum). Credit: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/ Wikipedia/GFDL v1.2

A discovery that bees have individual flying direction preferences could lead to strategies for steering drone aircraft fleets.
Researchers at The University of Queensland's Queensland Brain Institute have found that honeybees have individually distinct biases in "left- and right-handedness" when flying through obstacles.
Professor Mandyam (Srini) Srinivasan said the study showed that honeybees displayed handedness that varied from individual to individual.
"Unlike humans, who are mostly right-handed, some bees display a strong left bias, others a strong right bias, and yet others a weak or zero bias," Professor Srinivasan said.
The researchers studied the flying decisions made by foraging honeybees when they encountered a barrier that could be traversed by flying through one of two apertures.
Bees were able to discriminate the widths of oncoming gaps and choose the passage that was presumably safer and quicker to fly through.
"When the apertures were equally wide, both apertures were chosen with equal frequency and about 55 per cent of the bees displayed no side bias in their choices," Professor Srinivasan said.
Half the remaining 45 per cent preferred the left gap and half preferred the right gap.
When the gaps were of different width, the bees preferred the wider opening, and that preference increased sharply in line with the difference in aperture width.
The researchers confirmed the existence of individual biases by measuring the flight times of biased bees, noting a bee took longer to make a decision if its intrinsic bias was toward the side with the narrower opening.
"We believe these individual biases help to improve the flight efficiency of a swarm of bees through densely cluttered environments," Professor Srinivasan said.
"Flying insects constantly face the challenge of choosing efficient, safe and collision-free routes while navigating through dense foliage.
"This finding could potentially be used as strategy for steering a fleet of drone aircraft," he said.
The research is published in PLOS One.
Professor Srinivasan's laboratory has previously discovered that birds don't crash in flight because they always veer right, in research that has potential implications for aircraft automated anti-crash systems. That research is also published in PLOS One.

Journal Reference:
Ong M, Bulmer M, Groening J, Srinivasan MV (2017) Obstacle traversal and route choice in flying honeybees: Evidence for individual handedness. PLoS ONE12(11): e0184343.

Flying insects constantly face the challenge of choosing efficient, safe and collision-free routes while navigating through dense foliage. We examined the route-choice behavior of foraging honeybees when they encountered a barrier which could be traversed by flying through one of two apertures, positioned side by side. When the bees’ choice behavior was averaged over the entire tested population, the two apertures were chosen with equal frequency when they were equally wide. When the apertures were of different width, the bees, on average, showed a preference for the wider aperture, which increased sharply with the difference between the aperture widths. Thus, bees are able to discriminate the widths of oncoming gaps and choose the passage which is presumably safer and quicker to transit. Examination of the behavior of individual bees revealed that, when the two apertures were equally wide, ca. 55% of the bees displayed no side bias in their choices. However, the remaining 45% showed varying degrees of bias, with one half of them preferring the left-hand aperture, and the other half the right-hand aperture. The existence of distinct individual biases was confirmed by measuring the times required by biased bees to transit various aperture configurations: The transit time was longer if a bee’s intrinsic bias forced it to engage with the narrower aperture. Our results show that, at the population level, bees do not exhibit ‘handedness’ in choosing routes; however, individual bees display an idiosyncratic bias that can range from a strong left bias, through zero bias, to a strong right bias. In honeybees, previous studies of olfactory and visual learning have demonstrated clear biases at the population level. To our knowledge, our study is the first to uncover the existence of individually distinct biases in honeybees. We also show how a distribution of biases among individual honeybees can be advantageous in facilitating rapid transit of a group of bees through a cluttered environment, without any centralized decision-making or control. 
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Quote:Bees Can Solve Math Problems That Would Stump the Average Toddler

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Bees don't just buzz around and make honey; they also do math problems in their free time that would stump the average 4-year-old.

Last year, a group of researchers in Australia reported that bees understand the concept of "zero." Now, a new study by the same group suggests that the insects can also do basic addition and subtraction. The team reported its findings today (Feb. 6) in the journal Science Advances.

A couple of decades ago, scientists thought that such higher-level processing was limited to human and some other primate brains. But then, researchers looked a bit closer, finding that dolphins could understand what zero meant and that Alex the parrot (and even some spiders) could do basic arithmetic.

The findings called into question the "position that there's something special about the human brain," said the new study's senior author, Adrian Dyer, an associate professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

And then came the honeybees.

The brains of these insects have just under 1 million neurons, compared to around 86 billion neurons in human brains. The bees have a "very small brain and a very different brain architecture to our own," Dyer told Live Science. Yet, they perform tasks once thought to be possible only in humans.

For their new study, Dyer and his team recruited 14 honeybee students. The snack-seeking bees would enter a Y-shaped maze where they would see from one to five shapes that were either blue or yellow. The bees then had a choice to fly to the left or right side of the maze, with one side containing one more element and the other containing one less.

The researchers wanted the bees to complete a specific task: If the shapes were blue, the bees needed to add an element; if yellow, they had to subtract. The researchers rewarded the bees with sugar water when they chose correctly and punished them with a bitter-tasting quinine solution if they got something wrong.

After 4 to 7 hours of training, the researchers repeated the challenge to test the bees' knowledge, but without using the punishment or reward. In two addition and two subtraction tests, the bees chose the correct answer 60 to 75 percent of the time, the researchers found.

So … why in the world are bees doing math?

One possibility is that they evolved this ability because they're processing a lot of complex information in their environment as they go from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar, Dyer said. Another is that they have a lot of "neuroplasticity," meaning new connections can easily develop among neurons in bees' brains. In other words, bees aren't normally doing math, but their brains are flexible enough to learn a new skill, similar to how humans can learn to do a Rubik's cube or learn an instrument, Dyer said.

If you look at a textbook, it will say that children around age 4 or 5 can learn how to do a similar level of math, Dyer said. But that doesn't mean kids can't learn it earlier; that's just when they're typically taught it by the school system, he added. (And to be fair, adding or subtracting 1 is a far cry from solving more-complex addition and subtraction problems, such as 9 minus 5 or 2 plus 8, problems a typical 4-year-old might grasp.)

So, if bees can go add and subtract 1 from a number, can they go beyond that and perform serial math operations, such as 2 plus 1 plus 1?

Dyer said he hopes to find out. It looks like the honeybee students will have more class work to do.

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