You’d think bees would be all about metaphorically stopping and smelling the roses — but it turns out they prefer to waste no time when working out where to find food.
A University of Exeter study has concluded this conclusion. It found that the “streetwise” insects know very little about best landing places.
In the study, bees were first ‘trained’ to get a sugary treat from colourful fake flowers — and then the experts observed which colours the bees were attracted to after.
It was apparent that bees were more interested in the dominant colour than they were memorizing whole patterns of flowers.
The team believes that the results could shed light on how flowers evolved and the patterns they display to help pollinators find their way.
You’d think bees (pictured) would be all about metaphorically stopping and smelling the roses — but it turns out they prefer to waste no time when working out where to find food
The study was undertaken by animal behaviour expert Natalie Hempel de Ibarra of the University of Exeter and her colleagues.
‘We know bees have the cognitive capacity to learn a lot of information about a flower,’ Professor Hempel de Ibarra explained.
“However, we found that a low-effort, simple learning method is sufficient in certain situations.
In their study, the researchers presented bees with artificial flowers — each of which comprised a coloured circle containing a nectar-like sugar solution.
There were some flowers that were both yellow and blue, and others with a top and bottom in each of these colours. As the bees flew towards each flower, they could only see its bottom half if it was upright.
The team first let bees fly to flowers in order to earn their rewards. After they were comfortable with this routine, experts took out the treats and observed the colour patterns that bees preferred when searching for food.
The team presented bees with artificial flowers — each of which comprised a coloured circle containing a nectar-like sugar solution. There were a variety of artificial flowers, including some that were either yellow or blue. Some had a top and bottom in one colour and another in the other. They were all placed upright so the bees saw only the bottom halves of each flower as they flew towards them. Below are four color combinations as well as the routes the bees used to reach them.
The team discovered that bees paid more attention to colours in lower training circles than they did the real flowers when they were placed in test areas.
According to the team, this means that the bees learned only key facts about the targets they were targeting in order to assist future landings, rather than learning the entire flower.
The researchers also found that the bees flight patterns differed if they had first been trained with a circle split into two colours unevenly — that is, one that was mostly blue or mostly yellow.
The results in these cases were much more complex and showed that bees paid special attention to contrast edges while familiarizing themselves with fake flowers.
When bees faced test circles that had a different arrangement of the two colours than the fake flowers on which they trained, the team found that they paid the most attention to the colour that had been in the lower half of their training circles (as depicted above). The team explained that this suggests that bees learnt only the essential facts of their targets, rather than learning the entire flower.
Keri Langridge (University of Exeter), said that the bees found the right information in their experiments, and not all the available.
She added that “Like humans most animals prefer easy learning forms,”
“Why would you need to find an obscure route to get up the hill? One could just follow a marked trail that is big in colour?”
All findings were published in this journal. Frontiers of Physiology.