Savvy bumblebees know where to land to find food, according to new research by a team from the University of Exeter.
These busy bees get straight down to the business of accessing food, and have little time to admire beautiful flowers.
Researchers placed sugar solution in the center of artificial flowers with circles of blue or yellow, or half and half, and presented these to the bees.
The flight pattern of the bees, combined with the fact that the artificial flowers were positioned upright, meant they saw the bottom half of the circles mostly as they flew close to land.
When they were faced with a test circle where the two colors were differently arranged, the bees focused on whatever color had appeared in the lower half of the artificial flower they got used to seeing. This suggests they learned just this basic information and did not inspect and memorize the entire flower before landing.
This unrelated 6:03-minute video by Science with Mr. Harris shows the differences between bumblebees and honeybees:
Professor Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Associate Professor at Exeter's Center for Research in Animal Behavior, stated that we know bees have the cognitive capacity to learn a lot about a flower, but their study suggests a low-effort, easy form of learning is sufficient in some situations.
First author Dr. Keri Langridge, from University of Exeter, said the bees in their experiments extracted the bare minimum information they needed, rather than learning everything available to them.
Most humans and animals like easy learning. Why not keep it simple? Bumblebees seem to agree.
The research team included researchers from the universities of Durham and Auckland. The team presented bees with various versions of foraging tasks and training. Some were trained with a circle split into two uneven color parts—mostly yellow or mostly blue, and this changed their flight patterns.
The test results in this case were more complex than when they learned circles that were split 50/50. This suggested the bees paid some attention to contrast edges as well as color during training flights.
Sugar solution was provided in the training flights, but no reward was offered in the test flights following the training. This meant the bees were unable to find the sugar during test flights, so they flew around in front of the test circle, which allowed researchers to observe which color they were drawn to.
The study's findings may provide insights about the evolution of flowers whose colorful patterns help pollinators like bees to land quickly and safely, according to Professor Hempel de Ibarra.
The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, is called: “Approach direction prior to landing explains patterns of color learning in bees.” You can read it here.
It seems that bumblebees have developed a 'fast food fly-through' food sourcing approach, just like humans in many countries do for convenience.