Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 131–140 | Cite as

Spatial encoding by bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) of a reward within an artificial flower array

  • Dana L. Church
  • Catherine M. S. Plowright
Original Paper


We presented bumblebees a spatial memory task similar to that used with other species (e.g., cats, dogs, and pigeons). In some conditions we allowed for presence of scent marks in addition to placing local and global spatial cues in conflict. Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens) were presented an array of artificial flowers within a flight cage, one flower offering reward (S+), while the others were empty (S−). Bees were tested with empty flowers. In Experiment 1, flowers were either moved at the time of testing or not. Bees returned to the flower in the same absolute position of the S+ (the flower-array-independent (FAI) position), even if it was in the wrong position relative to the S− and even when new flower covers prevented the use of possible scent marks. New flower covers (i.e., without possible scent marks) had the effect of lowering the frequency of probing behavior. In Experiment 2, the colony was moved between training and testing. Again, bees chose the flower in the FAI position of the S+, and not the flower that would be chosen using strictly memory for a flight vector. Together, these experiments show that to locate the S+ bees did not rely on scent marks nor the positions of the S−, though the S− were prominent objects close to the goal. Also, bees selected environmental features to remember the position of the S+ instead of relying upon a purely egocentric point of view. Similarities with honeybees and vertebrates are discussed, as well as possible encoding mechanisms.


Bumblebees Spatial memory Egocentric information Landmarks 



This paper was prepared as part of the first author's doctoral thesis. Experiment 1 was presented at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science, Hamilton, Ontario, June 2003, and Experiment 2 was presented at the 11th Annual Conference on Comparative Cognition, Melbourne, FL, March 2004. This research was supported by a research grant to C. M. S. P. and a graduate scholarship to D. L. C. from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank Alain Desrochers, Sylvain Fiset, Sylvain Gagnon, Pierre Mercier, and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. All experiments comply with the standards of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology Department, Bag Service #45444University of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

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