Bees Solve Travelling Salesman Problem

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Tiny Bee Brains Beat Computers at Complex Math Problems - FoxNews.com

While they seem to wander leisurely from flower to flower foraging for pollen, bees are actually solving complex mathematical problems that take computers days to computer, studies found.

Researchers at Queen Mark, the University of London, and Royal Holloway have discovered that in their meandering, bees find the shortest possible route between the flowers they randomly discover. By doing so, the honey-lovin' insects are essentially solving the "Traveling Salesman Problem" -- despite having brains the size of a pinhead.

The classic mathematical problem, first formulated in 1930, involves a traveling salesman who must find the most efficient itinerary that allows him to visit all locations on his route. It is one of the most intensively studied problems in optimization.

Tiny brained bees solve a complex mathematical problem

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.

 Dr Nigel Raine, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway explains: "Foraging bees solve travelling salesman problems every day. They visit flowers at multiple locations and, because bees use lots of energy to fly, they find a route which keeps flying to a minimum.”

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.