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Concept: Bumblebees


Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) use information from surrounding electric fields to make foraging decisions. Electroreception in air, a nonconductive medium, is a recently discovered sensory capacity of insects, yet the sensory mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we investigate two putative electric field sensors: antennae and mechanosensory hairs. Examining their mechanical and neural response, we show that electric fields cause deflections in both antennae and hairs. Hairs respond with a greater median velocity, displacement, and angular displacement than antennae. Extracellular recordings from the antennae do not show any electrophysiological correlates to these mechanical deflections. In contrast, hair deflections in response to an electric field elicited neural activity. Mechanical deflections of both hairs and antennae increase with the electric charge carried by the bumblebee. From this evidence, we conclude that sensory hairs are a site of electroreception in the bumblebee.

Concepts: Electromagnetism, Electric charge, Electromagnetic field, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees


Bumblebees secrete a substance from their tarsi wherever they land, which can be detected by conspecifics. These secretions are referred to as scent-marks, which bumblebees are able to use as social cues. Although it has been found that bumblebees can detect and associate scent-marks with rewarding or unrewarding flowers, their ability at discriminating between scent-marks from bumblebees of differing relatedness is unknown. We performed three separate experiments with bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), where they were repeatedly exposed to rewarding and unrewarding artificial flowers simultaneously. Each flower type carried scent-marks from conspecifics of differing relatedness or were unmarked. We found that bumblebees are able to distinguish between 1. Unmarked flowers and flowers that they themselves had scent-marked, 2. Flowers scent-marked by themselves and flowers scent-marked by others in their nest (nestmates), and 3. Flowers scent-marked by their nestmates and flowers scent-marked by non-nestmates. The bumblebees found it more difficult to discriminate between each of the flower types when both flower types were scent-marked. Our findings show that bumblebees have the ability to discriminate between scent-marks of conspecifics, which are potentially very similar in their chemical composition, and they can use this ability to improve their foraging success.

Concepts: Pollination, Flower, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees


Research on comparative cognition has largely focused on successes and failures of animals to solve certain cognitive tasks, but in humans, memory errors can be more complex than simple failures to retrieve information [1, 2]. The existence of various types of “false memories,” in which individuals remember events that they have never actually encountered, are now well established in humans [3, 4]. We hypothesize that such systematic memory errors may be widespread in animals whose natural lifestyle involves the processing and recollection of memories for multiple stimuli [5]. We predict that memory traces for various stimuli may “merge,” such that features acquired in distinct bouts of training are combined in an animal’s mind, so that stimuli that have never been viewed before, but are a combination of the features presented in training, may be chosen during recall. We tested this using bumblebees, Bombus terrestris. When individuals were first trained to a solid single-colored stimulus followed by a black and white (b/w)-patterned stimulus, a subsequent preference for the last entrained stimulus was found in both short-term- and long-term-memory tests. However, when bees were first trained to b/w-patterned stimuli followed by solid single-colored stimuli and were tested in long-term-memory tests 1 or 3¬†days later, they only initially preferred the most recently rewarded stimulus, and then switched their preference to stimuli that combined features from the previous color and pattern stimuli. The observed merging of long-term memories is thus similar to the memory conjunction error found in humans [6].

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Memory, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Bumblebees


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.

Concepts: Psychology, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinators, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees, Karl von Frisch


Bumblebees (Bombus species) are major pollinators of commercial crops and wildflowers but factors affecting their abundance, including causes of recent population declines, remain unclear. Investigating the ecology of species with expanding ranges provides a potentially powerful means of elucidating these factors. Such species may also bring novel pollination services to their new ranges. We therefore investigated landscape-scale habitat use and foraging preferences of the Tree Bumblebee, B. hypnorum, a recent natural colonist that has rapidly expanded its range in the UK over the past decade. Counts of B. hypnorum and six other Bombus species were made in March-June 2012 within a mixed landscape in south-eastern Norfolk, UK. The extent of different landscape elements around each transect was quantified at three scales (250 m, 500 m and 1500 m). We then identified the landscape elements that best predicted the density of B. hypnorum and other Bombus species. At the best fitting scale (250 m), B. hypnorum density was significantly positively associated with extent of both urban and woodland cover and significantly negatively associated with extent of oilseed rape cover. This combination of landscape predictors was unique to B. hypnorum. Urban and woodland cover were associated with B. hypnorum density at three and two, respectively, of the three scales studied. Relative to other Bombus species, B. hypnorum exhibited a significantly higher foraging preference for two flowering trees, Crataegus monogyna and Prunus spinosa, and significantly lower preferences for Brassica napus, Glechoma hederacea and Lamium album. Our study provides novel, quantitative support for an association of B. hypnorum with urban and woodland landscape elements. Range expansion in B. hypnorum appears to depend, on exploitation of widespread habitats underutilised by native Bombus species, suggesting B. hypnorum will readily co-exist with these species. These findings suggest that management could target bumblebee species with distinctive habitat requirements to help maintain pollination services.

Concepts: Pollination, Pollinator decline, Pollination syndrome, Bee, Bumblebee, Pollinator, Bumblebees, Bombus hypnorum


To assess the ability of traditional biological recording schemes and lay citizen science approaches to gather data on species distributions and changes therein, we examined bumblebee records from the UK’s national repository (National Biodiversity Network) and from BeeWatch. The two recording approaches revealed similar relative abundances of bumblebee species but different geographical distributions. For the widespread common carder (Bombus pascuorum), traditional recording scheme data were patchy, both spatially and temporally, reflecting active record centre rather than species distribution. Lay citizen science records displayed more extensive geographic coverage, reflecting human population density, thus offering better opportunities to account for recording effort. For the rapidly spreading tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), both recording approaches revealed similar distributions due to a dedicated mapping project which overcame the patchy nature of naturalist records. We recommend, where possible, complementing skilled naturalist recording with lay citizen science programmes to obtain a nation-wide capability, and stress the need for timely uploading of data to the national repository.

Concepts: Human, Biodiversity, Population, Geography, Population density, Bumblebee, Bumblebees, Bombus hypnorum


Many insects rely on vision to find food, to return to their nest and to carefully control their flight between these two locations. The amount of information available to support these tasks is, in part, dictated by the spatial resolution and contrast sensitivity of their visual systems. Here, we investigate the absolute limits of these visual properties for visually guided position and speed control in Bombus terrestris. Our results indicate that the limit of spatial vision in the translational motion detection system of B. terrestris lies at 0.21 cycles deg(-1) with a peak contrast sensitivity of at least 33. In the perspective of earlier findings, these results indicate that bumblebees have higher contrast sensitivity in the motion detection system underlying position control than in their object discrimination system. This suggests that bumblebees, and most likely also other insects, have different visual thresholds depending on the behavioral context.

Concepts: Optics, Visual system, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Insects, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees


Bombus terrestris is one of the most commonly used insect models to investigate visually guided behavior and spatial vision in particular. Two fundamental measures of spatial vision are spatial resolution and contrast sensitivity. In this study, we report the threshold of spatial resolution in B. terrestris and characterize the contrast sensitivity function of the bumblebee visual system for a dual choice discrimination task. We trained bumblebees in a Y-maze experimental set-up to associate a vertical sinusoidal grating with a sucrose reward, and a horizontal grating with absence of a reward. Using a logistic psychometric function, we estimated a resolution threshold of 0.21 cycles deg(-1) of visual angle. This resolution is in the same range but slightly lower than that found in honeybees (Apis mellifera and A. cerana) and another bumblebee species (B. impatiens). We also found that the contrast sensitivity of B. terrestris was 1.57 for the spatial frequency 0.090 cycles deg(-1) and 1.26 for 0.18 cycles deg(-1).

Concepts: Mathematics, Honey bee, Bumblebee, Apidae, Pollinators, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees, Apinae


The development of bumble bee (Bombus terrestris audax) colonies which had foraged for 5 weeks on flowering winter oilseed rape grown from seed treated with thiamethoxam (as Cruiser OSR) was assessed (2 control, 1 treated field). Colony development was evaluated by monitoring the colony mass, forager activity was assessed, both at the hive and within the crop, and the contribution of oilseed rape to the pollen stored within the colony was analysed.

Concepts: Honey bee, Pollination, Pollinator decline, Bee, Bumblebee, Apidae, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees


The regulation of reproductive division of labour is a key component in the evolution of social insects. Chemical signals are important mechanisms to regulate worker reproduction, either as queen-produced pheromones that coercively inhibit worker reproduction or as queen signals that honestly advertise her fecundity. A recent study suggested that a conserved class of hydrocarbons serve as queen pheromones across three independent origins of eusociality. In bumblebees (Bombus terrestris), pentacosane (C25) was suggested to serve as a queen pheromone. Here, we repeat these studies using a different species of bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) with a more controlled experimental design. Instead of dequeened colonies, we used same-aged, three-worker queenless groups comprising either experienced or naive workers (with/without adult exposure to queen pheromone). We quantified three hydrocarbons (C23, C25 and C27) on the cuticular surfaces of females and tested their effects on the two worker types. Our results indicate differences in responses of naive and experienced workers, genetic effects on worker reproduction, and general effects of hydrocarbons and duration of egg laying on ovary resorption rates. However, we found no evidence to support the theory that a conserved class of hydrocarbons serve as queen pheromones or queen signals in Bombus impatiens.

Concepts: Insect, Reproductive system, Honey bee, Bee, Bumblebee, Ant, Bombus terrestris, Bumblebees