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More than 100 years ago, Karl von Frisch showed that honeybee workers learn and discriminate colors. Since then, many studies confirmed the color learning capabilities of females from various hymenopteran species. Yet, little is known about visual learning and memory in males despite the fact that in most bee species males must take care of their own needs and must find rewarding flowers to obtain food. Here we used the proboscis extension response (PER) paradigm to study the color learning capacities of workers and drones of the bumblebee, Bombus terrestris. Light stimuli were paired with sucrose reward delivered to the insects' antennae and inducing a reflexive extension of the proboscis. We evaluated color learning (i.e. conditioned PER to color stimuli) in absolute and differential conditioning protocols and mid-term memory retention was measured two hours after conditioning. Different monochromatic light stimuli in combination with neutral density filters were used to ensure that the bumblebees could only use chromatic and not achromatic (e.g. brightness) information. Furthermore, we tested if bees were able to transfer the learned information from the PER conditioning to a novel discrimination task in a Y-maze. Both workers and drones were capable of learning and discriminating between monochromatic light stimuli and retrieved the learned stimulus after two hours. Drones performed as well as workers during conditioning and in the memory test, but failed in the transfer test in contrast to workers. Our data clearly show that bumblebees can learn to associate a color stimulus with a sugar reward in PER conditioning and that both workers and drones reach similar acquisition and mid-term retention performances. Additionally, we provide evidence that only workers transfer the learned information from a Pavlovian to an operant situation.
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Karl von Frisch, Psychology, Bumblebees, Pollinators, Bombus terrestris, Honey bee, Bumblebee, Bee
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