(PhysOrg.com) -- Bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days.

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the '*Travelling Salesman Problem*', and these are the first animals found to do this.

The Travelling Salesman must find the shortest route that allows him to visit all locations on his route. Computers solve it by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the shortest. However, bees solve it without computer assistance using a brain the size of grass seed.

Professor Lars Chittka from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said: "In nature, bees have to link hundreds of flowers in a way that minimises travel distance, and then reliably find their way home - not a trivial feat if you have a brain the size of a pinhead! Indeed such travelling salesmen problems keep supercomputers busy for days. Studying how bee brains solve such challenging tasks might allow us to identify the minimal neural circuitry required for complex problem solving."

The team used computer controlled artificial flowers to test whether bees would follow a route defined by the order in which they discovered the flowers or if they would find the shortest route. After exploring the location of the flowers, bees quickly learned to fly the shortest route.

As well as enhancing our understanding of how bees move around the landscape pollinating crops and wild flowers, this research, which is due to be published in *The American Naturalist* this week, has other applications. Our lifestyle relies on networks such as traffic on the roads, information flow on the web and business supply chains. By understanding how bees can solve their problem with such a tiny brain we can improve our management of these everyday networks without needing lots of computer time.

Co-author and Queen Mary colleague, Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau adds: "There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers. There is an urgent need to understand the neuronal hardware underpinning animal intelligence, and relatively simple nervous systems such as those of insects make this mystery more tractable."

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## jdbertron

First there's no link to the article.

Second, there's no mention of the size of the TSP that was solved.

Third, it's ludicrous to declare that the problem was solved since any decent size problem would likely take years to confirm anyway. Most likely, the problems that were solved were of minimal size, in which the paths would not exhibit local minima or the number of combinations would be so small, it would be hard to declare the sequence as distinct from random.

Either way, this is hype, especially without a decent abstract or link to the paper.

## DavidMerchant

## rah

## Mario3k

## MIBO

This just proves that travelling salesmen have small brains, that's why they drive BMW's.

## Quantum_Conundrum

"Complex" problems are often easy to solve through some form of recursion. In studying fractals, for example, the complexity is a measure of the degree of recursion to which an algorithm is run. A true fractal is infinitely complex, but in nature there is a limit to complexity, whereby many "natural" fractals have a complexity of say, 3 or 4 levels of recursion.

"Complicated" are the ones that are difficult to solve.

Bees having compound eyes probably allows them to map spaces in their brains very efficiently, and then recursively solve for the shortest path in space through a very simple "instinctive" algorithm.

## Quantum_Conundrum

A network of servers at a data center is highly complex.

Whereas the space shuttle is not complex, but rather complicated, even though it is often incorrectly claimed to be the most complex machine ever made, because this is the "common" usage of "complex".

## Serkan_Halisdemir

(Surat an-Nahl (The Chapter of The Bee), Quran 16:68-69)

## Kedas

I'm pretty sure the fly will choose the wrong path if the numbers of flowers are not what the fly is used to.

## jjoensuu

...and this most likely because of factors caused by humankind...such as perhaps cell phone network radiation...

After all honey bees have been around for "millions" of years, right...so they should have "evolved" protection against all naturally existing pathogens. If this would not have happened they would have died out long ago...

## Husky

## Vaughn

## PinkElephant

If all the "flowers" are emitting volatiles into the air, and the volatile 'haloes' of all the flowers overlap to create a kind of 3D scalar intensity field, then the bees might simply be navigating this field via olfaction, by taking advantage of the aroma gradients. In essence, this may be a case of the air in the lab solving the problem for the insect, via a kind of dynamic programming algorithm.

This would be possible if the air in the lab is relatively still. Which one would expect, as the researchers would fear that excessive air turbulence might affect the insects' flight patterns and/or make it harder for the insects to actually determine the location of each "flower" (particularly when trying to discover new "flowers".)

## Quantum_Conundrum

Perhaps it's because the bee is solving a specific instance of the problem, whereas in software or in mathematics we often try to solve the most abstracted, generalized form of a problem ahead of time, in hopes of cutting down on future solving of special cases as needed.

The bee is a flight organism, so it's brain is wired better (relative to size,) for 3-dimensional spacial recognition, while humans primarily think in "2-d plus six to ten feet of z-axis" for normal daily living.

Consider, the bee is doing up/down, left/right, front/back, headwind, tailwind, crosswind, updraft, downdraft, all while planning the actual course from location to location.

## kasen

Not sure if that's how bees work, but the idea that the maths is done by the environment seems pretty valid to me. Constructal theory might have something to do with this.

## barakn

It is well known that bees' primary sense for finding flowers is vision, not olfaction. Also the article itself mentioned that the bees found the flowers in one order but then changed the path they took on subsequent visits to minimize the distance. If they were relying on some sort of smell-space, it seems like they should be able to find the flowers and the shortest path the first time 'round. Finally, if the traveling salesman problem was easily solvable by sampling a scalar field, then it would be easy to model and solve in a computer, and it wouldn't be the famously intractable problem that it is.

## PinkElephant

## Titto

And there are still idi@ts believing in evolution and this all just develops by it self then?

## random

I'm an atheist but I like this. Very appropriate. I wonder if there's any quotes concerning the Traveling Salesman Problem.

## Truth

What you may be forgetting is that it took billions of bees millions of years to get to that point. On the journey, untold quadrillions of bees that failed the test of nature fell by the wayside and died. Only the ones that had evolved along the most productive path remained and passed their genes on to their offspring. It's called evolution. You just seem to acknowledge the end product, not the very long process it took to get there.

## Truth

If I wanted to go to a mosque, or a church, or a temple, to start mouthing off about science and evolution, and I asked the clergy to be allowed to do so, I would be in no uncertain terms stopped and chased out the door. But here you are mouthing off about religion on a science website, freely and vigorously, like so many other holier-than-thou's do everyday. So I ask you: which is the more enlightened and open-minded forum? Take a wild guess.

## frajo

## subdeviant