, Volume 178, Issue 4, pp 477-489

Colour choices of naive bumble bees and their implications for colour perception

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Abstract

The innate preferences of inexperienced bumble bees, Bombus terrestris, for floral colour stimuli were studied using artificial flowers. The artificial flowers provided a colour pattern and consisted of a star-shaped corolla and of central colour patches similar to the “nectar guide” of natural flowers. The innate choice behaviour was assessed in terms of the number of approach flights from some distance towards the artificial flowers and the percentage of approach flights terminating in antennal contact with the floral guide. The colours of the floral guide, the corolla and the background were varied. It was shown that the innate flower colour preference in bumble bees has two components. 1. The frequency of approaches from a distance is correlated with the colour difference between the corolla and the background against which it is presented. If the corolla colour was constant but its background colour varied, the relative attractiveness of the corolla increased with its colour difference to the background. The colour difference assessment underlying this behaviour on a perceptual basis can be attained by means of colour opponent coding, a system well-established in Hymenoptera. 2. The frequency of antennal contacts with the floral guides relative to that of approach flights cannot be accounted for by colour opponent coding alone. Whether the approach flights are interrupted, or whether they end in an antennal contact with the “nectar guide” is strongly dependent on the direction (sign) of the colour difference, not only its magnitude. The choice behaviour requires a unique perceptual dimension, possibly that of colour saturation or that of hue perception comparable to components of colour perception in humans.