, Volume 91, Issue 5, pp 224–227 | Cite as

Fine colour discrimination requires differential conditioning in bumblebees

Short Communication


Accurate recognition requires that visual systems must be able to discriminate between target and distractor stimuli. Flowers are learned and recognised by bees using visual cues including colour and shape. We investigated whether bees were able to learn to discriminate between colours differently depending upon absolute or differential conditioning. For absolute conditioning bees were rewarded with sucrose solution for visits to target flowers. When distractor stimuli were subsequently presented, a high level of discrimination was observed if there was a perceptually large colour distance separating distractors and targets, but for a perceptually small colour distance the bees generalised and did not discriminate between stimuli. When provided with differential conditioning where both target and distractors were present, the bees learnt to discriminate stimuli separated by a perceptually small colour distance. This shows that for bees to learn fine colour discrimination tasks it is important to use differential conditioning. The findings are discussed within the context of the necessity for plants to produce distinctive flower colours.


  1. Backhaus W, Menzel R, Kreissl (1987) Multidimensional scaling of colour similarity in bees. Biol Cybern 56:293–304Google Scholar
  2. Chittka L (1992) The colour hexagon: a chromaticity diagram based on photoreceptor excitations as a generalized representation of colour opponency. J Comp Physiol A 170:533–543Google Scholar
  3. Chittka L (1996) Does bee color vision predate the evolution of flower color? Naturwissenschaften 83:136–138Google Scholar
  4. Chittka L, Menzel R (1992) The evolutionary adaptation of flower colours and the insect pollinators’ colour vision. J Comp Physiol A 171:171–181Google Scholar
  5. Chittka L, Gumbert A, Kunze J (1997) Foraging dynamics of bumble bees: correlates of movements within and between plant species. Behav Ecol 8:239–249Google Scholar
  6. Chittka L, Thomson JD, Waser NM (1999) Flower constancy, insect psychology, and plant evolution. Naturwissenschaften 86:361–377Google Scholar
  7. Chittka L, Spaethe J, Schmidt A, Hickelsberger A (2001) Adaptation, constraint, and chance in the evolution of flower color and pollinator color vision. In: Chittka L, Thompson JD (eds) Cognitive ecology of pollination. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 106–126Google Scholar
  8. Chittka L, Dyer AG, Bock F, Dornhaus A (2003) Bees trade off foraging speed for accuracy. Nature 424:388CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dafni A (1984) Mimicry and deception in pollination. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 15:259–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dyer AG, Chittka L (2004) Biological significance of distinguishing between similar colours in spectrally variable illumination: bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) as a case study. J Comp Physiol A 190:105–114Google Scholar
  11. Giurfa M, Hammer M, Stach S, Stollhoff N, Muller-Deisig N, Mizyrycki C (1999) Pattern learning by honeybees: conditioning procedure and recognition strategy. Anim Behav 57:315–324PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Giurfa M, Zhang S, Jenett A, Menzel R, Srinivasan M (2001) The concept of ‘sameness’ and difference in an insect. Nature 410:930–933CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gumbert A (2000) Color choices by bumble bees (Bombus terrestris): innate preferences and generalization after learning. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 48:36–43Google Scholar
  14. Peitsch D, Fietz A, Hertel H, Souza J de, Ventura DF, Menzel R (1992) The spectral input systems of hymenopteran insects and their receptor-based colour vision. J Comp Physiol A 170:23–40PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zoologie II, BiozentrumUniversität WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.School of Orthoptics, Faculty of Health SciencesLa Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia
  3. 3.Biological SciencesQueen Mary, University of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations