Bee Versus Computer
HOW smart is the common honeybee? Evidently, far smarter than today’s most powerful supercomputers. And they are a marvel of miniaturization.
One of the world’s most powerful computers can attain the amazing processing speed of 16 gigaflops. In layman’s terms, such a computer can perform 16 billion simple arithmetic operations, such as adding two numbers, each second. In contrast, a conservative count of all the electrical and chemical events taking place in a bee’s brain shows that the lowly honeybee performs the equivalent of ten trillion operations per second. Amazing!
The bee does all of that while consuming a lot less power than a computer. According to Byte magazine, “a honeybee’s brain dissipates less than 10 microwatts. . . . It is superior by about seven orders of magnitude to the most efficient of today’s manufactured computers.” Hence, over ten million bee brains can operate on the power needed for a single 100-watt light bulb. The most efficient of today’s computers uses hundreds of millions of times more energy to perform an equivalent number of operations.
Yet, honeybees do far more than computers. They can see in color, smell, fly, walk, and maintain their balance. They are able to navigate across long distances to locate sources of nectar and then return to the hive and communicate directions to fellow bees. They are quite efficient chemists as well. They add special enzymes to the nectar to make honey. They manufacture beeswax for use in building and repairing their hives. They prepare special food items, such as royal jelly and beebread, for their young. They protect their home by recognizing and repelling intruders.
Good housekeepers, they regularly remove garbage and other refuse from the hive. They control the climate in the hive either by clustering together for warmth in the winter or by fanning in fresh air and sprinkling water during the summer. When their home becomes overcrowded, bees are smart enough to know that some have to leave. So they raise up a new queen for the old hive, and the old queen and many of the workers swarm to establish a new colony. First, though, scouts are sent out to investigate new sites. After these return and compare notes, so to speak, “streaker” bees lead the swarm to its new home.
The lowly bees do all of this without any outside assistance or direction. They function independently. Yet, supercomputers require teams of programmers, engineers, and technicians. No contest! Bees truly are a marvel of miniaturization.
[Picture Credit Line on page 25]
L. Fritz/H. Armstrong Roberts