Bee Brains Can Outsmart Computers

A new study shows that bees are experts at solving the "traveling salesman" problem.

True, they can brew delicious honey, create amazing hives, and, if you’re not careful, give you a whopper of a sting—but those aren’t the only talents that bees have. According to a new study from University of London, the tiny insects can solve complex math problems that a computer would take days to crank out.

Bees are experts at the “traveling salesman problem,” says Dr. Nigel Raine, since they are able to simply work out the most efficient route to pollinate all the flowers in their path. “They visit flowers at multiple locations and, because bees use lots of energy to fly, they find a route which keeps flying to a minimum.”

Raine and his team tested a group of bees’ true intellect by setting up a group of computer-controlled artificial flowers for bees to explore. He wanted to see if the bees would simply fly to each flower in the order that they discovered them, or if they would quickly deduce the quickest and most efficient path from one to the next. Sure enough, as soon as they had discovered all of the flowers, they’d created a far quicker route.

Given that bees have brains no bigger than grass seeds, it’s a scientific marvel that they’re able to work out such complex problems. Meanwhile, we can’t even work out where we left our keys.