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Bees Seem To Benefit From Having Favorite Colors

Date:
June 25, 2007
Source:
Public Library Of Science
Summary:
A bee's favourite colour can help it to find more food from the flowers in their environment, according to new research. Scientists studied nine bumblebee colonies from southern Germany, and found that the colonies which favoured purple blooms were more successful foragers. The team's findings suggest that bumblebees have developed their favourite colour over time, to coincide with the most profitable, nectar-rich flowers available.

Bumblebee visiting nectar-rich flowers (Vicia spp.).
Credit: Tom Ings

A bee’s favourite colour can help it to find more food from the flowers in their environment, according to new research from Queen Mary, University of London.

Dr Nigel Raine and Professor Lars Chittka from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences studied nine bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) colonies from southern Germany, and found that the colonies which favoured purple blooms were more successful foragers.

Dr Raine explains: “In the area we studied, violet flowers produced the most nectar - far more than the next most rewarding flower colour (blue). Inexperienced bees are known to have strong colour preferences, so we investigated whether the bumblebee colonies with a stronger preference for violet flowers foraged more successfully in their local flora.”

The team first observed the colour preferences of naοve bees (those which had never before seen flowers) using violet (bee UV-blue) and blue (bee blue) artificial flowers in the laboratory. They then observed the rate at which bees from the same colonies collected nectar from real flowers in the wild.

The results showed that the colonies who preferred violet to blue flowers in the laboratory, harvested more nectar from real flowers under field conditions. In fact the colony with the strongest preference for violet (over blue) brought in 41 per cent more nectar than the colony with the least strong bias.

The team’s findings suggest that bumblebees have developed their favourite colour over time, to coincide with the most profitable, nectar-rich flowers available.

It has been long accepted that animals show innate preferences when selecting a mate, but little research has been carried out on how such sensory biases affect foraging habits. The researchers believe their work could have implications for other species.

“A straw poll of friends always reveals many personal differences in 'favourite colour'. Some human societies also have very different colour preferences,” explains Raine. “In our work on bees we actually show there is some useful purpose to having such favourite colours. These innate sensory biases seem to play an important role in helping naοve animals to find food.”

Reference: Raine NE, Chittka L (2007) The Adaptive Significance of Sensory Bias in a Foraging Context: Floral Colour Preferences in the Bumblebee Bombus terrestris. PLoS ONE 2(6): e556. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000556 (http://www.plosone.org/doi/pone.0000556) Funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft).


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The above story is based on materials provided by Public Library Of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Public Library Of Science. "Bees Seem To Benefit From Having Favorite Colors." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070624141133.htm>.
Public Library Of Science. (2007, June 25). Bees Seem To Benefit From Having Favorite Colors. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070624141133.htm
Public Library Of Science. "Bees Seem To Benefit From Having Favorite Colors." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070624141133.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

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