Do Solitary Bees Count to Five?

Noam Bar-Shai, Tamar Keasar, and Avi Shmida

Efficient foragers avoid returning to food sources that they had previously depleted. Bombus terrestris bumblebees use a counting-like strategy to leave Alcea setosa flowers just after visiting all of their five nectaries. We tested whether a similar strategy is employed by solitary Eucera sp. bees that also forage on A. setosa. Analyses of 261 video-recorded flower visits showed that the bees most commonly probed five nectaries, but occasionally (in 7.8% of visits) continued to a nectary they had already visited. Probing durations that preceded flower departures were generally shorter than probings that were followed by an additional nectary visit in the same flower. Assuming that probing durations correlate with nectar volumes, this suggests that flower departure frequencies increased after probing of low-rewarding nectaries. The flowers' spatial attributes were not used as departure cues, but the bees may have left flowers in response to scent marks on previously visited nectaries. We conclude that Eucera females do not exhibit numerical competence as a mechanism for efficient patch use, but rather a combination of a reward-based leaving rule and scent-marking. The bees' foraging pattern is compatible with Waage's (1979, Journal of Animal Ecology, 48, 353-371) patch departure rule, which states that the tendency to leave a foraging patch increases with time, and decreases when food items are encountered. Thus, Eucera resemble bumblebees in avoiding most revisits to already-visited nectaries, but use a different foraging strategy to do so. This difference may reflect lower learning capabilities of solitary bee species compared to social ones.

May, 2011
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