We've known for a while that bees are clever. They hold dance contests as part of a democratic process in the hive and use flower color cues to find the best access to a plant's nectar. Now, new research has given us a better picture of the secret lives of bees. According to the Guardian, bees can solve complicated mathematical problems that stump even supercomputers.
For example, the bugs can calculate the shortest route between flowers to minimize flight length. The article said that even when the flowers are discovered in random order, the bees can still map the quickest route and "solve the 'travelling salesman problem,'" which refers to a logistical problem that maps out the quickest route between (typically) cities so that the traveler only visits each stop once.
Computers solve the problem by comparing the lengths of all the possible route combinations, and then picking the one that's the shortest. Bees just seem to figure it out instantly. The Guardian article compares the bees' brain size to a grass seed, but points out that reserving energy on their flower flights is essential for their survival.
The article details the study, conducted at the University of London. In the experiment, researchers used computer-controlled artificial flowers to see whether the bees traveled in the order they found the flowers or spent time to look for the shortest route. The Guardian said the research has implications for humans, too, since "modern living depends on networks such as traffic flows, internet information, and business supply chains."
Understanding the ways these insects solve such complex problems without computers could be key to our future cities.