- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
18 April 2001 7:00 pm
The traditional notion that only humans can think abstractly has been steadily chipped away by research on other animals. A new study credits an invertebrate for the first time with such a sophisticated skill: Honeybees can conceptualize "sameness" and "difference." Researchers say honeybees may serve as a good model system for determining how nervous systems learn concepts.
Earlier research on vertebrates such as pigeons and dolphins has suggested they can recognize sameness and difference, among other concepts. Invertebrates have been largely ignored when it comes to complex cognition, although some recent studies have shown that honeybees can recognize and memorize patterns. Following up, a team led by neurobiologist Martin Giurfa of the Free University of Berlin in Germany investigated the ability of bees to make decisions based on abstract concepts.
Giurfa and his colleagues first trained bees to associate certain stimuli with a food reward. In one experiment, for instance, bees saw a blue patch at the entrance to a Y-shaped tube. Once inside, they could choose between heading down the arm with a blue target at the end or the arm that ended in a yellow target. They learned to go to blue, where sugar was hidden.
Next, the researchers tested whether the bees could use what they'd learned in a new situation. When the colors were replaced with patterns of vertical bars and horizontal bars, most bees promptly headed toward the pattern identical to the one at the entrance. This indicates they had formed a concept of "sameness" that they applied to the novel situation. Conversely, bees trained to head toward different colors headed toward differently barred patterns. The bees could even apply their new knowledge to other senses: Those trained on the smells of lemon and mango successfully transferred what they learned to the colors blue and yellow, the team reports in the 19 April issue of Nature.
The results are "novel, clever, [and] extremely elegant," says cognitive ecologist Reuven Dukas of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. In the future, the researchers hope to pinpoint the neuronal basis for such abilities. Because honeybees have less than 1 million neurons, Giurfa says, "you have a combination of extremely rich behavior and a simple nervous system that you can study."