Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero

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iStock

The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

It 'Rained' Spiders in Brazil Last Week—and You Can Watch It If You Dare

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iStock.com/aury1979

If recent events are anything to go by, you should be less concerned about swallowing spiders in your sleep and more concerned about bird-eating spiders raining down on your head. As The Guardian reports, recent footage from the Brazilian countryside shows thousands of spiders seemingly suspended in mid-air. (Arachnophobes might want to give the video below a miss.)

In reality, they aren’t falling at all. The spiders, which likely belong to a South American species called Parawixia bistriata, are merely crawling on an ultra-fine and nearly invisible web that attaches to two objects, like trees or bushes, to form a canopy.

So why do they do it? To catch prey, naturally. They’re likely to snag a variety of insects and maybe even small birds in their communal web, which can stretch up to 13 feet wide. (And yes, they eat the birds, too.)

Brazilian biology professor Adalberto dos Santos tells The Guardian that P. bistriata are some of the rare “social” spiders that do this. They leave their webs up overnight, hide out in the nearby vegetation, and then return at dawn to feast.

While this natural phenomenon is certainly unsettling, it isn’t exactly rare. Residents of the southeast municipality of Espírito Santo do Dourado, where the video was shot, said these “spider rains” are common when the weather is hot and humid.

Here’s another video from Santo Antônio da Platina in southern Brazil in 2013.

Other species of spider have been known to jump into the wind and "surf" on strands of silk as a means of getting around. They do this to escape threats or get to food or mates in other locations, and cases of "spider flight" have been recorded all over the world. Some especially adventurous spiders have even been known to cross oceans by “ballooning” their way from one land mass to the next.

[h/t The Guardian]

FDA Recalls Several Dry Dog Foods That Could Cause Toxic Levels of Vitamin D

iStock.com/Chalabala
iStock.com/Chalabala

The FDA has recalled several brands of dry dog food that contain potentially toxic levels of vitamin D, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. While vitamin D is essential for dogs, too much of the nutrient can result in kidney failure and other serious health problems.

The FDA has already received reports of vitamin D toxicity in dogs that consumed certain dry foods. Pet owners are advised to stop using the following products:

Old Glory Hearty Turkey and Cheese Flavor Dog Food (manufactured by Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Evolve Chicken & Rice Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Sportsman's Pride Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Triumph Chicken & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food (Sunshine Mills, Inc.)

Nature's Promise Chicken & Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Nature's Place Real Country Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food (Ahold Delhaize)

Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food (sold at Kroger in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming)

ELM Chicken and Chickpea Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ELM K9 Naturals Chicken Recipe (ELM Pet Foods, Inc.)

ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food (ANF, Inc.)

Orlando Grain-Free Chicken & Chickpea Superfood Recipe (sold at Lidl stores)

Natural Life Pet Products Chicken & Potato Dry Dog Food

Nutrisca Chicken and Chickpea Dry Dog Food

For the full list of UPC and lot numbers involved in the recall, visit the FDA's website.

Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning usually develop 12 to 36 hours after pets consume a suspect food, according to PetMD. The FDA says those symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, and weight loss. "Customers with dogs who have consumed this product and are exhibiting these symptoms should contact their veterinarian as soon as possible," the FDA writes.

The agency says the situation is still developing, and it will update the list of recalled brands as more information becomes available. According to WKRN News, veterinary professionals recommend sticking to dog foods that have an AAFCO label (from the Association of American Feed Control Officials) on them.

[h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

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