Flight Durations in Bumblebees under Manipulation of Feeding Choices

Noam Bar-shai, Rana Samuels, Tamar Keasar, Uzi Motro and Avi Shmida

Foraging bees spend less time flying between flowers of the same species than when flying between individuals of different species. This time saving has been suggested as a possible advantage of flower-constant foraging. We hypothesized that the time required to switch flower type increases if (a) such switches are infrequent and (b) the bees need to decide whether to switch or not. Laboratory reared bumblebees were taught to forage on artificial feeders that were identical in morphology and reward schedule, but were marked by either a blue or a yellow landing surface. In the first two experiments bees foraged alternatively between two feeders. The landing surface was manipulated to coerce the bees to perform either a color-constant or a color-shift flight movement. In Experiment 1 we switched the landing surfaces every 2-3 visits, while in Experiment 2 the bees performed 6-7 color-constant flights before having to perform a color-shift flight. In the third experiment, the bees were presented with binary choices and had to decide to make a color-constant or a color-shift flight. When feeder colors were changed frequently (Experiment 1), we detected no difference between color-constant and color-shift inter-visit times. When bees were repeatedly exposed to one color (Experiment 2), color shifts required a significantly longer time than color-constant flights. When allowed to choose (Experiment 3), bees performed more color-constant flights than color-shift flights. Inter-visit times were similar for color-constant and color-shift flights in this experiment. Overall flight times were slightly but non-significantly longer than in experiments 1 and 2. The results suggest that bees indeed save flight time though flower-constant foraging. However, this time saving is small (~ 1 s / flower visit), and appears only when switches between flower types are infrequent. Additional selective advantages likely favor flower-constant foraging.

July, 2003
Published in: 
Journal of Insect Behavior 17 (2004), 155-168