If you were to dine at a restaurant with cheap prices and delicious food versus a restaurant with expensive prices and mediocre food, which one would you make an effort to remember? Most likely, you would want to remember the former so you can return in the future, whereas the latter wouldn’t leave a lasting impression. According to a recent study led by Elisa Frasnelli at the University of Lincoln, large bumblebees have a similar behavior with flowers: they will try harder to remember flowers with high sugar nectar than those with low sugar nectar. 

Bumblebees have natural variation in size, determined by environmental factors, that connects to their intricate social hierarchy. Small bumblebees tend to work in the hive, while large bumblebees often explore to find nectar and pollen for food. To remember where their discovered flowers are, they perform learning flights, in which they fly around the flower multiple times to take in its surroundings. In this recent study, artificial flowers were set up with different sugar levels in the nectar to see how bee behavior might change. The researchers found that large bumblebees perform longer learning flights for flowers with high sugar nectar to try and remember them better, whereas small bumblebees perform learning flights of the same duration for all flowers. This could be explained by the differing roles of the bumblebees. Since the large bumblebees are primarily responsible for gathering food, remembering specific high sugar flowers allows them to bring back high quality nectar.

By studying bumblebee behavior around flowers, this study has provided insight in the complex social network of bumblebees. With more research, we could begin to understand the emergence of social behaviors and its interplay with brain development. In addition, bumblebees are important for flower pollination in a natural ecosystem and hence survival and spread of many plants. By better understanding their behavior, we can better support bees and help ensure a healthy natural ecosystem. 

Elisa Frasnelli is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln in the UK. She is a physicist by training and cognitive neuroscientist researcher with a Bachelor in Science in Applied Physics and Masters in Physics and Biological Technologies and a PhD in Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

Managing Correspondent: Jenny Zheng

Press Release: https://phys.org/news/2020-12-big-bumblebees.html phys.org

Original Article: https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(20)31775-9.pdf Current Biology

Image Credits: https://pixabay.com/photos/bumble-bee-insect-f-bumble-bee-2361336/ Pixabay

One thought on “Large Bumblebees Remember the High Sugar Flowers

  1. From a bee, we can get a very broad knowledge. Even from trivial things like this, it can support science in the future. Especially as an agronomy student who also studied the role of insects in pollinating flowering plants

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