, Volume 199, Issue 3, pp 197-210
Date: 09 Dec 2012

Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) and honeybees (Apis mellifera) prefer similar colours of higher spectral purity over trained colours

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Differences in the concentration of pigments as well as their composition and spatial arrangement cause intraspecific variation in the spectral signature of flowers. Known colour preferences and requirements for flower-constant foraging bees predict different responses to colour variability. In experimental settings, we simulated small variations of unicoloured petals and variations in the spatial arrangement of colours within tricoloured petals using artificial flowers and studied their impact on the colour choices of bumblebees and honeybees. Workers were trained to artificial flowers of a given colour and then given the simultaneous choice between three test colours: either the training colour, one colour of lower and one of higher spectral purity, or the training colour, one colour of lower and one of higher dominant wavelength; in all cases the perceptual contrast between the training colour and the additional test colours was similarly small. Bees preferred artificial test flowers which resembled the training colour with the exception that they preferred test colours with higher spectral purity over trained colours. Testing the behaviour of bees at artificial flowers displaying a centripetal or centrifugal arrangement of three equally sized colours with small differences in spectral purity, bees did not prefer any type of artificial flowers, but preferentially choose the most spectrally pure area for the first antenna contact at both types of artificial flowers. Our results indicate that innate preferences for flower colours of high spectral purity in pollinators might exert selective pressure on the evolution of flower colours.