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J Chem Ecol. 2002 Apr;28(4):721-40.

Ability of honeybee, Apis mellifera, to detect and discriminate odors of varieties of canola (Brassica rapa and Brassica napus) and snapdragon flowers (Antirrhinum majus).

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  • 1Department of Entomology, Ohio State University, Columbus 43210-1220, USA.


Honeybees (Apis mellifera) use odors to identify and discriminate among flowers during foraging. This series of experiments examined the ability of bees to detect and discriminate among the floral odors of different varieties of two species of canola (Brassica rapa and Brassica napus) and also among three varieties of snapdragons (Antirhinnum majus). Individual worker honeybees were trained using a proboscis extension assay. The ability of bees to distinguish a floral odor from an air stimulus during training increased as the number of flowers used during training increased. Bees conditioned to the odor of one variety of flower were asked to discriminate it from the odors of other flowers in two different training assays. Bees were unable to discriminate among flowers at the level of variety in a randomized presentation of a reinforced floral odor and an unreinforced floral odor. In the second type of assay, bees were trained with one floral variety for 40 trials without reinforcement and then tested with the same variety or with other varieties and species. If a bee had been trained with a variety of canola, it was unable to differentiate the odor of one canola flower from the odor of other canola flowers, but it could differentiate canola from the odor of a snapdragon flower. Bees trained with the odor of snapdragon flowers readily differentiated the odor of one variety of a snapdragon from the odor of other varieties of snapdragons and also canola flowers. Our study suggests that both intensity and odor quality affect the ability of honeybees to differentiate among floral perfumes.

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