Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 200, Issue 6, pp 485–496 | Cite as

Behavioural evidence of colour vision in free flying stingless bees

  • J. Spaethe
  • M. Streinzer
  • J. Eckert
  • S. May
  • A. G. DyerEmail author
Original Paper


Colour vision was first demonstrated with behavioural experiments in honeybees 100 years ago. Since that time a wealth of quality physiological data has shown a highly conserved set of trichromatic colour receptors in most bee species. Despite the subsequent wealth of behavioural research on honeybees and bumblebees, there currently is a relative dearth of data on stingless bees, which are the largest tribe of the eusocial bees comprising of more than 600 species. In our first experiment we tested Trigona cf. fuscipennis, a stingless bee species from Costa Rica in a field setting using the von Frisch method and show functional colour vision. In a second experiment with these bees, we use a simultaneous colour discrimination test designed for honeybees to enable a comparative analysis of relative colour discrimination. In a third experiment, we test in laboratory conditions Tetragonula carbonaria, an Australian stingless bee species using a similar simultaneous colour discrimination test. Both stingless bee species show relatively poorer colour discrimination compared to honeybees and bumblebees; and we discuss the value of being able to use these behavioural methods to efficiently extend our current knowledge of colour vision and discrimination in different bee species.


Simultaneous Colour discrimination Differential conditioning Learning Flower 



We thank Werner Huber (University of Vienna) for logistical support, Christa Neumeyer for discussions, and the Tropical Research Station La Gamba, Costa Rica, for making available their laboratory facilities and tropical garden. The Costa Rican Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía kindly granted research permits. A.G.D. was supported by Australian Research Council DP0878968/DP0987989/DP130100015 and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. A.G.D. and S.M. thank The Biological Sciences Department at Monash University for facilities.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1941 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Spaethe
    • 1
  • M. Streinzer
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. Eckert
    • 1
  • S. May
    • 3
  • A. G. Dyer
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology, BiozentrumUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Neurobiology, Faculty of Life SciencesUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Department of PhysiologyMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  4. 4.School of Media and Communication, Royal Melbourne Institute of TechnologyMelbourneAustralia

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