Natures wonders: Bumble bees can learn (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Wednesday, December 02, 2015, 20:47 (1387 days ago) @ David Turell

This experiment using artificial flowers shows that bees can learn where to find the pollen and the nectar although colors may confuse them a bit, and they learn from that confusion.:

"To train bees by giving them a chance to get experience with both flowers, I let an individual bee into a room where she could fly around and collect nectar and pollen from the artificial flowers. She then returned to her colony, removed her pollen loads and regurgitated nectar into honeypots in the colony (making honey). After a few times of going between the foraging array and colony it seemed like bees had learned where to go to collect nectar and where to go to collect pollen. It was easy to tell whether the bee was trying to collect nectar or pollen from a given flower because bees collected pollen from the artificial anthers of the flowers and nectar from a well at the base of the anther.

"To test whether bees had learned where to go, I then gave each bee a ‘test'. In this test, I presented a bee with four artificial flowers. Two of these flowers were the ones she had previously encountered (blue and yellow) and two of these flowers were completely new (being orange and purple). In this test phase, none of the flowers had any nectar or pollen on them.

"I found that if a bee had been trained to find pollen on yellow flowers and nectar on blue, then she searched for pollen on the anthers of the yellow flowers, and probed for nectar in the nectar wells of the blue flowers. This showed that bees remembered which flowers had previously contained which specific reward.

:Interestingly, the bees also generalised what they had learned for yellow and blue flowers to the two novel colours (purple and orange). This meant that if a bee had learned that yellow flowers had pollen she also searched orange flowers for pollen (the colour most similar to yellow). Similarly, if she had learned that blue flowers had nectar she also searched purple flowers for nectar (the colour most similar to blue).

"This finding that bees can simultaneously learn which flowers have nectar and which have pollen teaches us something new about bee behaviour. However, this discovery also means that we can now use bees to look at how animals more generally learn when they are dealing with different types of reward."

Comment: Interesting but not surprising finding. Bees dance to tell where the best flowers exist.

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