The influence of pigmentation patterning on bumblebee foraging from flowers of Antirrhinum majus
Patterns of pigmentation overlying the petal vasculature are common in flowering plants and have been postulated to play a role in pollinator attraction. Previous studies report that such venation patterning is significantly more attractive to bee foragers in the field than ivory or white flowers without veins. To dissect the ways in which venation patterning of pigment can influence bumblebee behaviour, we investigated the response of flower-naïve individuals of Bombus terrestris to veined, ivory and red near-isogenic lines of Antirrhinum majus. We find that red venation shifts flower colour slightly, although the ivory background is the dominant colour. Bees were readily able to discriminate between ivory and veined flowers under differential conditioning but showed no innate preference when presented with a free choice of rewarding ivory and veined flowers. In contrast, both ivory and veined flowers were selected significantly more often than were red flowers. We conclude that advantages conferred by venation patterning might stem from bees learning of their use as nectar guides, rather than from any innate preference for striped flowers.