Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 10, pp 817–827 | Cite as

Blue colour preference in honeybees distracts visual attention for learning closed shapes

  • Linde MorawetzEmail author
  • Alexander Svoboda
  • Johannes Spaethe
  • Adrian G. Dyer
Original Paper


Spatial vision is an important cue for how honeybees (Apis mellifera) find flowers, and previous work has suggested that spatial learning in free-flying bees is exclusively mediated by achromatic input to the green photoreceptor channel. However, some data suggested that bees may be able to use alternative channels for shape processing, and recent work shows conditioning type and training length can significantly influence bee learning and cue use. We thus tested the honeybees’ ability to discriminate between two closed shapes considering either absolute or differential conditioning, and using eight stimuli differing in their spectral characteristics. Consistent with previous work, green contrast enabled reliable shape learning for both types of conditioning, but surprisingly, we found that bees trained with appetitive-aversive differential conditioning could additionally use colour and/or UV contrast to enable shape discrimination. Interestingly, we found that a high blue contrast initially interferes with bee shape learning, probably due to the bees innate preference for blue colours, but with increasing experience bees can learn a variety of spectral and/or colour cues to facilitate spatial learning. Thus, the relationship between bee pollinators and the spatial and spectral cues that they use to find rewarding flowers appears to be a more rich visual environment than previously thought.


Apis mellifera Vision Shape discrimination Blue contrast Conditioning method 



We would like to thank Martin Streinzer for performing the colour measurements and the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments of the manuscript. L.M. was recipient of a DOC-fFORTE fellowship of the Austrian Academy of Science at the Department of Integrative Zoology, University of Vienna. A.G.D. was supported by Australian Research Council DP0878968/DP0987989/DP130100015 and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Supplementary material

359_2013_843_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (143 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 142 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linde Morawetz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alexander Svoboda
    • 1
  • Johannes Spaethe
    • 2
  • Adrian G. Dyer
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Integrative ZoologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology, BiozentrumUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  3. 3.School of Media and CommunicationRoyal Melbourne Institute of TechnologyMelbourneAustralia

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