Bumble bees make a beeline for larger flowers

June 29, 2017, Springer
Credit: Springer

Bumble bees create foraging routes by using their experience to select nectar-rich, high-rewarding flowers. A study by Shohei Tsujimoto and Hiroshi Ishii of the University of Toyama in Japan now suggests that bees actually forage more efficiently when flower sizes are large rather than small. This indicates that for these insect pollinators foraging quickly is more efficient than foraging accurately. The research is published in Springer's journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology and uses a laboratory-based experiment to investigate how aspects of associative learning influence how bumble bees find food among different-sized flowers.

The researchers examined the trade-off between speed and accuracy that occurs when (Bombus ignites) are presented with new foraging areas. To do so, they introduced the insects to different-sized artificial flowers that were set out in a flight cage. The flowers had styrene foam centres which were embedded with nectar providers. These allowed for a sucrose solution to be automatically replenished. When an array of flowers which was two centimetres in diameter was used, the bees could not easily detect the next nearest flower. However, when large flowers (six centimetres in diameter) were presented, the bees could easily recognize the next available artificial bloom.

Previous studies focusing on spatial-reward in foraging animals have assumed that foraging efficiency increases as the forager learns the locations of greater rewards. Tsujimoto and Ishii found that when the flowers were small, the bees created foraging routes by selectively incorporating the locations of high-rewarding flowers with their experience. But when the flowers were large and, therefore, more easily detectable, the bees no longer needed to consider the of high rewarding flowers and simply flew between flowers more quickly.

"The bumble bees created a route without accounting for the location of high-rewarding flowers when they could find flowers easily, but incorporated the locations of high-rewarding flowers when they could not easily find the next nearest flowers," explains Tsujimoto. "These results, together with those of other studies, show that learning could be a choice that foragers apply according to the cost-benefit balance of learning, and this is dependent on the circumstances."

"A forager that creates a route without accounting for the location of high-rewarding will therefore not always be a short-sighted loser," adds Ishii.

Explore further: Foraging bees prefer contrasting colors rather than stripes when they select flowers, study finds

More information: Shohei G. Tsujimoto et al, Effect of flower perceptibility on spatial-reward associative learning by bumble bees, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s00265-017-2328-y

Related Stories

Nicotine enhances bees' activity

May 16, 2017

Nicotine-laced nectar can speed up a bumblebee's ability to learn flower colours, according to scientists at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.


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.