Bumblebees use floral scents to locate food

October 25th, 2008 - 1:45 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 25 (IANS) Bumblebees use floral scents to help their peers track food sources, according to Queen Mary researchers from University of London.For any animal, finding food can be time consuming and inefficient; social animals such as bees reduce these problems by informing their peers of plentiful sites, and ‘recruiting’ them to the search.

Honeybees use their waggle-dance to tell nest-mates the distance and direction of a food source. But bumblebees can’t communicate geographical information in this way; instead, they release a recruitment pheromone in the nest to encourage their colleagues to venture out in search of food. But where should they look?

Mathieu Molet, Lars Chittka and Nigel Raine from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences Queen Mary, wanted to discover if this recruitment pheromone helped bees to learn which specific flowers were most rewarding at that time.

They exposed bumblebee colonies to an anise scent mixed with recruitment pheromone and monitored their foraging patterns, said a Queen Mary release.

Bees learned that anise-scented flowers were the most rewarding. They learned this best when the flower smell was brought back to the nest by another ‘demonstrator’ bee, but they could also learn it when the anise odour entered the nest as either scented nectar or simply scent in the air.

Raine explained that “successful bees motivate their sisters to find food by running excitedly around the nest, buzzing and releasing pheromone. They bring home the scent of the flowers they visited which fills the air and flavours the honey. The other bees leave the nest and search for nectar-rich flowers with the same smell.”

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