Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Bumblebees “Solve the Travelling Salesman Problem on the Fly”

Bumblebees are amazingly smart. Image courtesy of Bernie Kohl, public domain.

Joel Kontinen

Bumblebees are amazingly smart: they can detect weak electric fields with their mechanosensory hairs.

Recent research disclosed another amazing skill they have: “a grasp of maths that enables them to crack the classic travelling salesman problem as they forage for pollen and nectar.”

New Scientist describes this problem as follows: “Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city and returns to the origin city?”

It seems that bumblebees with their tiny brains are at least equal to, if not better than, the best human computer programmes that attempt to tackle this problem.

If this sounds a lot like intelligent design, the obvious reason is that it indeed is.

The animal kingdom abounds with designed features that challenge Darwinian evolution, for instance jellyfish navigation, the gliding skills of lemurs, gecko feet and the co-ordinated flight of tens of thousands of starlings.


New Scientist staff and Press Association. 2017. Bumblebees solve the travelling salesman problem on the fly. New Scientist (11 December).