In The News : Clever Animals In Zoos

A joint experiment between Australian and French scientists have shown that honey bees are able to do maths.

The scientists put pictures on a wall of a maze with a number of either blue or yellow shapes on them.  If the shapes were yellow, the goal was to subtract one element from the number of objects in the sample. If it was blue, however, then the aim was to add one element to the number of objects in the picture.

So, if there were 5 blue shapes on the original picture and the bee flew to the one with 6 blue shapes (5+1) in the next room, it got some sweet, sweet nectar.  If it flew to the picture with 4 blue shapes, it got a fairly rubbish drink.

The experiments were suitably controlled, obviously, and the accuracy with which the bees learnt what they needed to do  could have implications for AI according to Adrian Dyer, lead author of the paper published in Science Advances.

[Systems] using methods like deep learning can learn complex problems, but typically takes relatively long learning phases – millions of trials. By using bio-inspired approaches, it is often possible to develop efficient solutions to improve learning, and since bees learn within 100 trials we now know there has to be efficient ways of solving the problem.

Bees are hard workers so make good test subjects, but they aren’t the only animals able to do maths.  Some humans can manage it sometimes without a calculator, as well as parrots, spiders and chimpanzees, the latter of which are also able to escape zoo enclosures while also being clever enough to let themselves back in.

Well, it was an alleged escape from Belfast Zoo where wind blew down a tree on the chimp enclosure allowing them to get over the wall.  A young child apparently tried his best to stop the escape act by shouting, “Don’t escape you bad little gorilla.”

Zookeeper Alyn Cairns told the BBC:

They’re intelligent primates and know they’re not supposed to be out of their enclosure, so got back in themselves.

Not so much of an escape, then.

A zoo in Australia is doing something a little bit different this Valentine’s Day by allowing the public to name a brown snake after one of the exes.

The competition run by Wild Life Sydney requires entrants to explain why their ex deserves it, and also donate to its conservation fund, which aims to help Australian native wildlife by funding research and educational programs.

The zoo’s general manager, Mark Connolly, said in a statement that the competition could give “someone unlucky in love … something else to celebrate on Valentine’s Day this year.”

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