Learning of colored targets with vertical and horizontal components by bumblebees (Bombus terrestris L.)

Rachel Arnon, Tamar Keasar, Natalie De Ibarra, Dan Cohen, Avi Shmida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colorful tufts of bracts, which attract insect pollinators, terminate the vertical inflorescences of several plant species. These flag-like bracts contrast in color with the leaves below them, and are oriented perpendicular to the flowers on the inflorescence. We studied how color contrast and perpendicular orientation affect the feeding choices of bumblebees in laboratory experiments. We trained bees to feeders with perpendicular two-color displays, and subsequently recorded their choices among feeders that displayed only one of these cues. The bees preferred perpendicular displays that resembled the training model in the color of the horizontal component. We then evaluated the effects of the horizontal vs. vertical display component on foraging choices. After training bees to two-color, perpendicular displays, we allowed them to choose between displays with either the same horizontal or the same vertical component as the training model. Foragers mostly oriented to the horizontal displays to which they had been trained. We conclude that (a) bumblebees learn perpendicular, two-color displays; (b) horizontal display components influence foraging choices more than vertical components; (c) vertical visual cues might guide the approach to a feeder, serving as landmarks. We discuss possible implications of our findings for the role of extra-floral bracts in pollination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-201
Number of pages9
JournalIsrael Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Nir for technical assistance. Yaacov Rittov and Uzi Motro provided statistical advice. Ally Harari, Michal Segoli, Adi Sadeh, and Daphna Gottlieb commented on the manuscript. The study was supported in part by the Center for Rationality and Interactive Decision-Making, and by the Institute of Advanced Studies, at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


  • Bee
  • Color contrast
  • Extra-floral display
  • Learning
  • Perpendicular orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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