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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2002 Aug;188(7):503-12. Epub 2002 Jul 5.

Discrimination of coloured patterns by honeybees through chromatic and achromatic cues.

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  • 1Institut für Biologie-Neurobiologie, Freie Universität Berlin, Königin-Luise-Str. 28/30, 14195 Berlin, Germany.


We investigated pattern discrimination by worker honeybees, Apis mellifera, focusing on the roles of spectral cues and the angular size of patterns. Free-flying bees were trained to discriminate concentric patterns in a Y-maze. The rewarded pattern could be composed of either a cyan and a yellow colour, which presented both different chromatic and achromatic L-receptor contrast, or an orange and a blue colour, which presented different chromatic cues, but the same L-receptor contrast. The non-rewarded alternative was either a single-coloured disc with the colour of the central disc or the surrounding ring of the pattern, a checkerboard pattern with non-resolvable squares, the reversed pattern, or the elements of the training pattern (disc or ring alone). Bees resolved and learned both colour elements in the rewarded patterns and their spatial properties. When the patterns subtended large visual angles, this discrimination used chromatic cues only. Patterns with yellow or orange central discs were generalised toward the yellow and orange colours, respectively. When the patterns subtended a visual angle close to the detection limit and L-receptor contrast was mediating discrimination, pattern perception was reduced: bees perceived only the pattern element with higher contrast.

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