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Big bumblebees take time to learn locations of best flowers: Study

ANI | Updated: Dec 30, 2020 16:53 IST

Exeter [UK], December 30 (ANI): While big bumblebees take time to learn locations of best flowers, smaller bumblebees which have a shorter flight range and less carrying capacity do not pay special attention to flowers with the richest nectar, according to a new study.
Scientists from the University of Exeter examined the 'learning flights' which most bees perform after leaving flowers. Honeybees are known to perform such flights and the study shows bumblebees do the same, repeatedly looking back to memorise a flower's location.
Natalie Hempel de Ibarra, Associate Professor at Exeter's Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour said, "It might not be widely known that pollinating insects learn and develop individual flower preferences, but in fact bumblebees are selective."
"On leaving a flower, they can actively decide how much effort to put into remembering its location. The surprising finding of our study is that a bee's size determines this decision making and the learning behaviour," Ibarra added.

In the study, captive bees visited artificial flowers containing sucrose (sugar) solution of varying concentrations.
The larger the bee, the more its learning behaviour varied depending on the richness of the sucrose solution. Smaller bees invested the same amount of effort in learning the locations of the artificial flowers, regardless of whether sucrose concentration was high or low.
"The differences we found reflect the different roles of bees in their colonies," said Professor Hempel de Ibarra.
"Large bumblebees can carry larger loads and explore further from the nest than smaller ones. Small ones with a smaller flight range and carrying capacity cannot afford to be as selective, so they accept a wider range of flowers," he added.
The study conducted in collaboration with scientists from the University of Sussex also revealed that these small bees tend to be involved more with tasks inside the nest and only go out to forage if food supplies in the colony are running low. (ANI)