Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 191, Issue 6, pp 547–557 | Cite as

Simultaneous and successive colour discrimination in the honeybee (Apis mellifera)

  • Adrian G DyerEmail author
  • Christa Neumeyer
Original Paper


The colour discrimination of individual free-flying honeybees (Apis mellifera) was tested with simultaneous and successive viewing conditions for a variety of broadband reflectance stimuli. For simultaneous viewing bees used form vision to discriminate patterned target stimuli from homogeneous coloured distractor stimuli, and for successive discrimination bees were required to discriminate between homogeneously coloured stimuli. Bees were significantly better at a simultaneous discrimination task, and we suggest this is explained by the inefficiency with which the bees’ brain can code and retrieve colour information from memory when viewing stimuli successively. Using simultaneous viewing conditions bees discriminated between the test stimuli at a level equivalent to 1 just-noticeable-difference for human colour vision. Discrimination of colours by bees with simultaneous viewing conditions exceeded previous estimates of what is possible considering models of photoreceptor noise measured in bees, which suggests spatial and/or temporal summation of colour signals for fine discrimination tasks. The results show that when behavioural experiments are used to collect data about the mechanisms facilitating colour discrimination in animals, it is important to consider the effects of the stimulus viewing conditions on results.


Colour vision Receptor noise Colour space Just-noticeable-difference Photoreceptors 



Standard error




Receptor noise





We thank Professors K. Donner, M. Giurfa, W.R.A. Muntz and T. Reuter for discussions about the study. We thank Dr J. Schramme, Mr M. Manns and Ms C. Schröder for assistance in conducting experiments. A.G. Dyer is grateful to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut fur Zoologie III (Neurobiologie)Johannes Gutenberg-UniversitätMainzGermany
  2. 2.School of Orthoptics, Faculty of Health SciencesLa Trobe UniversityVicAustralia

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