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Insects. 2014 Jul 30;5(3):629-38. doi: 10.3390/insects5030629.

Color Difference and Memory Recall in Free-Flying Honeybees: Forget the Hard Problem.

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Department of Physiology, Monash University, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia.
School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia.
School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia.


Free-flying honeybees acquire color information differently depending upon whether a target color is learnt in isolation (absolute conditioning), or in relation to a perceptually similar color (differential conditioning). Absolute conditioning allows for rapid learning, but color discrimination is coarse. Differential conditioning requires more learning trials, but enables fine discriminations. Currently it is unknown whether differential conditioning to similar colors in honeybees forms a long-term memory, and the stability of memory in a biologically relevant scenario considering similar or saliently different color stimuli. Individual free-flying honeybees (N = 6) were trained to similar color stimuli separated by 0.06 hexagon units for 60 trials and mean accuracy was 81.7% ± 12.2% s.d. Bees retested on subsequent days showed a reduction in the number of correct choices with increasing time from the initial training, and for four of the bees this reduction was significant from chance expectation considering binomially distributed logistic regression models. In contrast, an independent group of 6 bees trained to saliently different colors (>0.14 hexagon units) did not experience any decay in memory retention with increasing time. This suggests that whilst the bees' visual system can permit fine discriminations, flowers producing saliently different colors are more easily remembered by foraging bees over several days.


absolute; conditioning; differential; flower

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