Insects learn faster when they are rewarded with nectar

Aug 01, 2012

Butterflies learn faster when a flower is rewarding than when it is not, and females have the edge over males when it comes to speed of learning with rewards. These are the findings of a new study, by Dr. Ikuo Kandori and Takafumi Yamaki from Kinki University in Japan. Their work, published online in Springer's journal Naturwissenschaften - The Science of Nature, is the first to investigate and compare the speed at which insects learn from both rewarding and non-rewarding experiences.

Learning is a fundamental mechanism for adjusting behavior to . In insects, there are three main types of learning: reward learning where insects develop a positive association between visual and/or olfactory cues and resources such as ; aversive learning where insects associate visual and/or olfactory cues with negative such as salt, shock and toxins; and non-reward learning where they associate the cues with the absence of rewards. To date, very few studies have explored non-reward learning in pollinator insects, including the butterfly Byasa alcinous.

In a series of four experiments, Kandori and Yamaki examined both the reward (nectar present) and non-reward (no nectar) learning abilities of the butterfly while foraging among artificial flowers of different colors. They also compared the reward and non-reward learning speeds.

They found that the butterfly learned to associate , not only with the presence of nectar, but also with the absence of nectar. This demonstrates that the butterfly used both reward and non-reward learning while foraging on the flowers. In addition, the butterfly learned quicker via reward learning than it did via non-reward learning; and females learned faster than males.

These authors conclude: "Byasa alcinous can find rewarding flower species more efficiently via both reward and non-reward learning. may initially visit a certain flower by innate preference. If this flower is rewarding, they quickly increase their focus on that flower species through reward learning. If the flower species is unrewarding and common, frequent visits to that flower species enhances non-reward learning to avoid that flower species. The butterfly can then identify new rewarding flower species with a reduced loss of energy and time, if it avoids foraging on such abundant, innately attractive but unrewarding flower species."

Explore further: Researchers collect soil samples from around the globe in effort to conduct fungi survey

More information: Kandori I & Yamaki T (2012). Reward and non-reward learning of flower colours in the butterfly Byasa alcinous (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidae). NaturwissenschaftenThe Science of Nature; DOI 10.1007/s00114-012-0952-y

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How bumblebees tackle the traveling salesman problem

Jun 29, 2011

It is a mathematical puzzle which has vexed academics and travelling salesmen alike, but new research from Queen Mary, University of London's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, reveals how bumblebees ...

Making a bee-line for the best rewards

Aug 17, 2011

Bumblebees use complex problem solving skills to minimise the energy they use when flying to collect food, according to new research from Queen Mary, University of London.

Reward elicits unconscious learning in humans

Mar 11, 2009

A new study challenges the prevailing assumption that you must pay attention to something in order to learn it. The research, published by Cell Press in the March 12th issue of the journal Neuron, demonstrates that stimul ...

Recommended for you

Male sex organ distinguishes 30 millipede species

10 hours ago

The unique shapes of male sex organs have helped describe thirty new millipede species from the Great Western Woodlands in the Goldfields, the largest area of relatively undisturbed Mediterranean climate ...

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

Nov 26, 2014

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.