As part of our continuing coverage of bees, I’d like to bring to your attention some research by folks at Queen Mary, University of London, as summarized by Virginia Morell for ScienceNOW:
Bumblebees foraging in flowers for nectar are like salesmen traveling between towns: Both seek the optimal route to minimize their travel costs. Mathematicians call this the “traveling salesman problem,” in which scientists try to calculate the shortest possible route given a theoretical arrangement of cities. Bumblebees, however, take the brute-force approach: For them, it’s simply a matter of experience, plus trial and error, scientists report in the current issue of PLoS Biology. The study, the first to track the movements of bumblebees in the field, also suggests that bumblebees aren’t using cognitive maps—mental recreations of their environments—as some scientists have suggested, but rather are learning and remembering the distances and directions that need to be flown to find their way from nest to field to home again.
So this isn’t some major natural algorithmic discovery or, as Wired put it, “BEES SOLVE TRAVELING SALESMAN PROBLEM” (fuck Wired), but it’s a pretty cool find that bees will in some way remember distances and plan routes to minimize travel.