Colour learning when foraging for nectar and pollen: Bees learn two colours at once

Felicity Muth, Daniel R. Papaj, Anne S. Leonard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Bees are model organisms for the study of learning and memory, yet nearly all such research to date has used a single reward, nectar. Many bees collect both nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein) on a single foraging bout, sometimes from different plant species. We tested whether individual bumblebees could learn colour associations with nectar and pollen rewards simultaneously in a foraging scenario where one floral type offered only nectar and the other only pollen. We found that bees readily learned multiple reward-colour associations, and when presented with novel floral targets generalized to colours similar to those trained for each reward type. These results expand the ecological significance of work on bee learning and raise new questions regarding the cognitive ecology of pollination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150628
JournalBiology letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Bombus
  • Foraging
  • Learning
  • Pollen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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