Transfer from number to size reveals abstract coding of magnitude in honeybees
Number discrimination has been documented in honeybees. It is not known, however, whether it reflects, as in vertebrates, the operating of an underlying general magnitude system that estimates quantities irrespective of dimensions (e.g., number, space, time) and format (discrete, continuous). We trained bees to discriminate between different numerical comparisons having either a 0.5 (2 vs. 4; 4 vs. 8) or 0.67 ratio (2 vs. 3; 4 vs. 6). Bees were then tested for spontaneous choice using comparisons with identical numbers but different sizes. Irrespective of the ratio of stimuli, bees trained to select the smaller numerical quantity chose the congruent smaller size; bees trained to select the larger numerical quantity chose the congruent larger size. This finding provides the evidence for a cross-dimensional transfer between discrete (numerical) and continuous (spatial) dimensions in an invertebrate species and supports the hypothesis of a cognitive universality of a coding for general magnitude.