Strange but True: Honeybees Can Recognize the Difference Between Even and Odd Numbers

Honeybees are the first non-humans to demonstrate an ability to learn the difference between even and odd numbers.

The honeybee experiment could better understand how humans perform parity tasks (whether a number is even or odd).

Parity tasks may not be as complicated as previously believed.

It is so easy for humans to distinguish between even numbers and odd numbers because we are so intelligent. Until the publication of a new study, humans believed we were the only creatures capable of performing this feat, known as a parity task.

The situation may change if honeybees can learn to tell the difference between even and odd groupings. With brains just a fraction of the size of our own—human brains run with 86 billion neurons, while a honeybee’s brain falls just shy of one million neurons—either the parity game isn’t quite as complex as we once thought, or honeybees just have a different way of learning parity.

The study, published last week in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, highlighted how honeybees “demonstrated an ability to learn the concepts of odd and even” and then applied the concepts to numbers greater than the researchers believed they could understand. It was all quite impressive for a flying insect.

“The findings should encourage further testing of parity processing in a wider variety of animals to inform on its potential biological roots, evolutionary drivers and potential technology innovations for concept processing,” the authors write. “These findings suggest that odd and even processing tasks potentially have a biological ground in how numbers are processed beyond cultural transmission.”