, Volume 82, Issue 1, pp 137–144 | Cite as

Do foraging bumblebees scent-mark food sources and does it matter?

  • Ulrich Schmitt
  • Andreas Bertsch
Original Papers


The foraging of worker bees of Bombus terrestris visiting artificial feeders in a climatic test chamber was investigated. The behaviour of worker bees visiting rewarding and unrewarding feeders is completely different. Of all flower visits to rewarding feeders 94% are probing-visits, i.e. the bees land on the flower and probe for nectar. In contrast, only 0.3% of all visits to unrewarding feeders are probing-visits, whereas 47% are approach-visits, i.e., the bees approach the feeders without landing. Exchanging feeder discs proves that the signal used for discrimination must be associated with the plastic disc used as landing platform. Most probably it involves scent-marking of the rewarding feeders with components of high and low volatility. The mean foraging efficiency of bees in a scent-marked foraging arena is 5.7 mg sugar/min and drops to 2.8 mg sugar/min after the scent marked discs are replaced by clean ones. Three components generate this drop in foraging efficiency: (1) the between-flower flight time increases, i.e. the bees search for a longer time before landing on flowers, (2) the bees no longer discriminate between rewarding and unrewarding feeders, and (3) the bees probe empty feeders longer than necessary; obviously they expect to find nectar.

Key words

Bombus Flower-visit Scent marking Foraging-efficiency 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Cameron SA (1981) Chemical signals in bumble bee foraging. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 9:257–260Google Scholar
  2. Cheverton J, Kacelnik A, Krebs JR (1985) Optimal foraging: constraints and currencies. Fortsch Zool 31:109–126Google Scholar
  3. Corbet SA, Willmer PG, Beamant JWL, Unwin DM, Prys-Jones OE (1979) Post-secretory determinants of sugar concentration in nectar. Plant Cell Environment 2:293–308Google Scholar
  4. Corbet SA, Kerslake CJC, Brown D, Morland NE (1984) Can bees select nectar-rich flowers in a patch? J Apic Res 23:234–242Google Scholar
  5. Ferguson AW, Free JB (1979) Production of a forage-marking pheromone by the honeybee. J Apic Res 18:128–135Google Scholar
  6. Free JB, Williams IH (1983) Scent-marking of flowers by honeybees. J Apic Research 22:86–90Google Scholar
  7. Heinrich B (1976) Resource partitioning among some eusocial insects: bumblebees. Ecology 57:874–889Google Scholar
  8. Heinrich B (1979) Resource heterogeneity and patterns of movement in foraging bumblebees. Oecologia 40:235–245Google Scholar
  9. Heinrich B (1983) Do bumblebees forage optimally and does it matter? Amer Zool 23:272–281Google Scholar
  10. Kacelnik A, Houston AI, Schmid-Hempel P (1986) Central place foraging in honey bees: the effects of travel time and nectar flow on crop filling. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 19:19–24Google Scholar
  11. Kato M (1988) Bumble bee visits to Impatiens spp.: pattern and effeciency. Oecologia 76:364–370Google Scholar
  12. Lecomte JM (1957) Sur le marquage olfactif des sources de nourriture par les Abeilles butineuses. CR Acad Sc Paris 245:2385–2387Google Scholar
  13. Marden JH (1984) Remote perception of floral nectar by bumblebees. Oecologia 64:232–240Google Scholar
  14. Nunez JA (1967) Sammelbienen markieren versiegte Futterquellen durch Duft. Naturwiss 54:322–323Google Scholar
  15. Nunez JA (1982) Honeybee foraging strategies at a food source in relation to its distance from the hive and the rate of sugar flow. J Apic Research 21:139–150Google Scholar
  16. Pyke GH (1980) Optimal foraging in nectar-feeding animals and coevolution with their plants. In: Kamil AC, Sargent TD (eds) Foraging behavior: ecological, ethological and psychological approaches. Garland STPM Press, New York, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Pyke GH (1984) Optimal foraging theory: a critical review. Ann Review Ecol Syst 15:523–575Google Scholar
  18. Thorp RN, Briggs DL, Estes JR, Erikson EH (1975) Nectar fluorescence under ultraviolet irradiation. Science 189:476–478Google Scholar
  19. Wetherwax PB (1986) Why do honeybees reject certain flowers? Oecologia 69:567–570Google Scholar
  20. Winston ML (1987) The biology of the honey bee. Harvard Univ Press Cambridge, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrich Schmitt
    • 1
  • Andreas Bertsch
    • 1
  1. 1.Fachbereich Biologie der Philipps UniversitätMarburgGermany

Personalised recommendations