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J Exp Biol. 2006 Nov;209(Pt 22):4420-8.

Honeybee memory: A honeybee knows what to do and when.

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  • 1ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University, PO Box 475, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia.


Honeybees have the ability to flexibly change their preference for a visual pattern according to the context in which a discrimination task is carried out. This study investigated the effect of time of day, task, as well as both parameters simultaneously, as contextual cue(s) in modulating bees' preference for a visual pattern. We carried out three series of experiments to investigate these interactions. The first series of experiments indicated that trained bees can reverse their pattern preference following midday breaks, as well as an overnight break, at the feeder and at the hive. The second series of experiments showed that trained bees are able to reverse their pattern preference in just a few minutes, depending on whether they are going out to forage or returning to the hive. The third series of experiments demonstrated that trained bees can significantly reverse their pattern preference at the feeder and at the hive entrance following midday breaks, as well as after an overnight break; the bees could also learn to choose different patterns at the feeder and at the hive entrance within each testing period. The training thus imposed a learnt pattern preference on the bees' daily circadian rhythm. This study demonstrates that the bee with a tiny brain possesses a sophisticated memory, and is able to remember tasks within a temporal context. Honey bees can thus ;plan' their activities in time and space, and use context to determine which action to perform and when.

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