Did Bees Solve the Travelling Salesman Problem?

The travelling salesman problem is one of the legendary problems in computer science.

 [Update 03.06.12: via John D. Cook: “We have an embarrassment of computational riches when we can solve traveling salesmen problems on a phone.”]

And it looks like bees may have solved it on their own.

Tiny brained bees solve a complex mathematical problem, Queen Mary, University of London: Bumblebees can find the solution to a complex mathematical problem which keeps computers busy for days. Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the ‘Travelling Salesman Problem’, and these are the first animals found to do this. 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.

A recent item in National Geographic shows their amazing progress.

Related links:
How bumblebees tackle the traveling salesman problem
Bees Traveling Salesman Problem