We think of insects as tiny little automatons programmed to perform a task. They're too small to think. They cannot reflect on the world around them. They likely have a very limited memory. And certainly they don't possess the psychological depth needed for emotions. They're just a bunch of spinning, biting and stinging dummies. Dumb, dumb asshole dummies.
Man, your mom must really hate you.
However, new research is turning our conception of intelligence on its head.
Although bees are tiny, they have "the most densely packed gray matter of any animal" in the world. This compact little brain has given them the ability to count up to four and remember those numbers later on. Four might not seem like a lot (in fact it isn't), but they're the only bugs who can do anything close to counting. Bees also beat supercomputers when it comes to solving the traveling salesman problem.
"The answer is four. Now fuck off so I can do my job!"
We like to think that bees are mindless, identical drones, but new studies suggest that they have different personalities and emotions. Some buzz jockeys are thrill seekers who are more willing to take risks than their supposedly identical siblings. Other studies have shown that bees become pessimistic and get depressed when scientists torment them. Pessimism was thought to be a trait reserved for "higher" animals: "You can't be pessimistic if you don't have an inner life." And if they can despair, does that mean that they can hope, too? If you can be pessimistic, doesn't that mean that you can also be optimistic? It's a little scary to think that these tiny creatures might have aspirations and dreams. Fortunately, researchers have figured out how to strip bees of all hope to leave them despondent wrecks. Chalk up another win for science.
Monte Richard is a columnist for DaftGadgets.com, and you can visit his blog.
For more animals we should probably be a little scared of, check out The 6 Biggest Assholes in the Animal Kingdom and 7 Reasons Ants Will Inherit the Earth.