Floral colour patterns are contrasting colour patches on flowers, a part of the signalling apparatus that was considered to display shape and colour signals used by flower-visitors to detect flowers and locate the site of floral reward. Here, we show that flower-naïve bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) spontaneously direct their approach towards the outside margin of artificial flowers, which provides contrast between these dummy flowers and the background. If no floral guides are present, the bumblebees continue to approach the margin and finally touch the marginal area of the dummy flower with the tips of their antennae. Whilst approaching dummy flowers that also have a central floral guide, the bumblebees change their direction of flight: Initially, they approach the margin, later they switch to approaching the colour guide, and finally they precisely touch the floral guide with their antennae. Variation of the shape of equally sized dummy flowers did not alter the bumblebees’ preferential orientation towards the guide. Using reciprocal combinations of guide colour and surrounding colour, we showed that the approach from a distance towards the corolla and the antennal contact with the guide are elicited by the same colour parameter: spectral purity. As a consequence, the dummy flowers eliciting the greatest frequency of antennal reactions at the guide are those that combine a floral guide of high spectral purity with a corolla of less spectral purity. Our results support the hypothesis that floral guides direct bumblebees’ approaches to the site of first contact with the flower, which is achieved by the tips of the antennae.
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We would like to thank A. Thorson for linguistic improvement and the members of the Sensory Ecology Group at the HHU Düsseldorf for discussion and comments.
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