From: University of Arizona
Published June 30, 2017 05:17 PM

To Buzz or to Scrabble? To Foraging Bees, That's the Question

Imagine going to the supermarket to stock up on groceries but coming home empty-handed because you just couldn't figure out how to work the shopping cart or figure out how to get to the ice cream tubs in the freezer aisle.

Welcome to the life of a bumblebee. 

Gathering sweet nectar from flowers, it turns out, is much more difficult than one might think, and it requires a lengthy learning process. By the time a bee has figured out how to efficiently pry open the lips of a snapdragon flower, for example, most likely it has made dozens, if not hundreds, of floral visits. 

How does a bee in charge of shopping for food needed to raise dozens of hungry larvae back in the hive learn to navigate the multitude of floral architectures it may encounter during an average workday, let alone over the course of its life? 

Mostly by what biologists call associative learning, more widely known as trial and error, researchers have found. But while extensive research — starting with famous bee researcher and Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch a century ago — has focused on uncovering how bees forage for nectar, much less is known about how bees go about collecting pollen, which constitutes the most important protein source for the developing brood in the hive. 

Continue reading at University of Arizona

Photo: Laden with pollen, a common eastern bumblebee emerges from a squash flower. (Credits: Kent McFarland / Creative Commons)

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