Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bumblebees use logic to find the best flowers

Date:
April 4, 2013
Source:
Queen Mary, University of London
Summary:
Scientists have discovered why bees copy each other when looking for nectar -- and the answer is remarkably simple.

Bumblebee on a flower.
Credit: © Marta Jonina / Fotolia

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have discovered why bees copy each other when looking for nectar -- and the answer is remarkably simple.

Despite their tiny brains, bees are smart enough to pick out the most attractive flowers by watching other bees and learning from their behaviour. By using simple logic, they see which coloured flowers are the most popular, and conclude that those of the same colour must also contain lots of energy-rich nectar.

"Learning where to find nectar by watching others seems fantastically complex for a tiny bee, but it's something that almost any animal could do, in the right circumstances," says Dr Elli Leadbeater from ZSL's Institute for Zoology. Dr Leadbetter is co-author of the study published this week in Current Biology and joins Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences later this year.

Most worker bees visit thousands of flowers every day in their search for nectar to feed their queen's brood. Copying flower colour choices may be a shortcut to success, bypassing the exhausting process of exploring each flower to see if it contains hidden rewards.

Tests were carried out in wooden laboratory "flight arenas" stocked with artificial flowers. Bees were trained to know that sugar could be found on flowers where other foragers were present. The bees then watched through a screen as their companions chose a particular flower colour, and ignored another.

When later allowed to choose a flower colour alone, the test bees copied their companions' choices. "Naive foragers," who had never learnt to equate other bees with nectar, did not copy other bees' behaviour.

Erika Dawson, a PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London adds: "Our study shows how bees use past associations to make decisions about when to copy others, but almost all other animals, including humans, are also capable of forming associations. For example, we might associate Easter with chocolate or injections with fear. This suggests that other species, not just bees, may also use this logical process when learning from others."

"We suggest that bees are using similar logic to a person, who might get a headache, and the next day, feel very ill. A week later, the headache is back, accompanied by a nasty rash. Even though they do not feel ill this time, when the rash appears again the following week, they start to dread feeling ill again, and think about taking the next day off work."

The scientists also found that bees consider whether their companions are making good choices. In laboratory "flight arenas," test bees did not copy other bees if they knew that those bees were visiting bitter-tasting flowers. Instead, the test bees actively avoided the flower colours that other bees chose. The flowers were made bitter using quinine -- a flavour used in tonic water, which bees typically dislike.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Queen Mary, University of London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Erika H. Dawson, Aurore Avarguθs-Weber, Lars Chittka, Ellouise Leadbeater. Learning by Observation Emerges from Simple Associations in an Insect Model. Current Biology, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.03.035

Cite This Page:

Queen Mary, University of London. "Bumblebees use logic to find the best flowers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122053.htm>.
Queen Mary, University of London. (2013, April 4). Bumblebees use logic to find the best flowers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122053.htm
Queen Mary, University of London. "Bumblebees use logic to find the best flowers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122053.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) — With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) — Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins