Larger bumblebees put effort into learning where the best flowers are

Researchers from the University of Exeter have discovered something interesting about bumblebees. The team found that larger bumblebees perform learning flights to learn the location of the best flowers. Smaller bumblebees, which have shorter flight ranges and less carrying capacity, don't pay special attention to flowers with the best nectar. Honeybees are also known to perform learning flights repeatedly to memorize the location of the best flowers.

Natalie Hempel de lbarra, an associate professor at the Exeter Center for Research in Animal Behavior, says it's not widely known that pollinating insects learn and develop individual flower preferences. However, she says that bumblebees are selective. When they leave the flower, they actively decide how much effort is put into remembering its location. The interesting finding from their study is that the bee's size determines the decision-making and learning behavior.

The larger the bee is, the more likely it was to put effort into learning a flower's location when it left. The study used captive bees that visited artificial flowers containing sucrose solution of varying concentrations. The larger the bee was, the more its learning behavior varied depending on the richness of the sucrose solution.

Smaller bees invest the same effort in learning the location of the artificial flowers regardless of whether sucrose concentration was higher low. Professor Hempel de lbarra said that the differences found in the study reflect the different roles of the bees within their colony. Larger bumblebees carry larger loads and can explore further from the nest than smaller ones. Small bumblebees with shorter flight range and carrying capacity can't afford to be selective, leading them to accept a broader range of flowers.

Smaller bees tended to be involved with more tasks inside the nest, only going out to look for food if the colony was low. The Exeter study involved bees observed in greenhouses at the university's Streatham Campus.