Variations on a theme: Bumblebee learning flights from the nest and from flowers
Hempel de Ibarra, N
Journal of Experimental Biology
Company of Biologists
© 2018. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd
Reason for embargo
On leaving a significant place to which they will come back, bees and wasps perform learning flights to acquire visual information to guide their returns. The flights occur in different contexts, like their nest or a flower, which are functionally and visually different. The permanent and inconspicuous nest hole of a bumblebee worker is locatable primarily through nearby visual features; whereas a more transient flower advertises itself by its colour and shape. We compared the learning flights of bumblebees leaving their nest or a flower in an experimental situation in which the nest hole, flower and their surroundings were visually similar. Consequently, differences in learning flights could be attributed to the bee's internal state when leaving the nest or flower rather than to the visual scene. Flights at the flower were a quarter as long as those at the nest and more focussed on the flower than its surroundings. Flights at the nest covered a larger area with the bees surveying a wider range of directions. For the initial third of the learning flight, bees kept within about 5 cm of the flower and nest hole and tended to face and fixate the nest, flower and nearby visual features. The pattern of these fixations varied between nest and flower and these differences were reflected in the bees' return flights to the nest and flower. Together these findings suggest that the bees' learning flights are tuned to their inherent expectations of the visual and functional properties of nests and flowers.
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