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Approaching and departing bees learn different cues to the distance of a landmark

Abstract

Bees learn both the absolute distance and the apparent size of landmarks in the vicinity of a foraging site. They learn about landmarks both when approaching and when leaving the site. Whereas learning on arrival can take place on every visit to the food source, learning on departure is limited to the first few visits, when the bee Turns Back and Looks (TBL) at the feeder in a stereotyped manoeuvre before flying off. We investigated whether one specific function of TBLs is to acquire information about the absolute distance of landmarks from the feeding site. Bees were trained to forage from a feeder which lay at a fixed distance from a cylinder. During training, bees were exposed to the cylinder either only while they approached and landed on the feeder, or only on their departure from it, or at both of these times. Tests on trained bees immediately after the TBL phase revealed that those bees which had viewed the cylinder only on arrival had learnt the apparent size of the cylinder, but not its distance from the feeder. In contrast, bees which saw the cylinder on departure had learnt its absolute distance. They also learnt the cylinder's apparent size, provided that the cylinder was close to the feeder. Bees which had viewed the cylinder on arrival as well as on departure learnt both absolute distance and apparent size. Distance dominated the bees' behaviour in the initial phase of learning, apparent size was more important later on. We suggest that early during learning bees need information about the 3-D structure of the environment so that they can identify those landmarks close to a foraging site which will specify accurately the site's position. This information is acquired during TBLs. Later, landmark guidance can be achieved by 2-D image matching.

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Lehrer, M., Collett, T.S. Approaching and departing bees learn different cues to the distance of a landmark. J Comp Physiol A 175, 171–177 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00215113

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00215113

Key words

  • Honeybee
  • Behaviour
  • Orientation flights
  • Distance learning
  • Size learning