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Male bees have more than a one-track mind

Male bumblebees are just as smart as female worker bees despite their dim-witted reputation, according to new research from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

16 November 2015

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Male bumblebee feeding on a thistle flower

Dr Stephan Wolf, lead author of the research, said: "Despite fundamental differences in the daily habits between male and female bees, this work illustrates that male bees can be clever shoppers in the flower supermarket even when their main interest is in mating.”

The study tested the bees’ ability to associate the flower colour with the reward of food. Flower colours where changed after some time, and bees had to forget the previously learned cue and learn a new colour as indicator for nectar or food.

Over four sequential colour changes, the researchers demonstrated that male and worker bees are equally good at learning floral colours to guide them to those flower types that provide them with nectar even when the colours of the rewarding flowers will change over time.

Professor Lars Chittka, co-author of the study, suggests that: “Since bumblebee males can’t sting, they are a useful model to study insect learning behaviour without the constant risk of painful encounters.”

Watch this video to find out more about how bees forage for food and why their health is important for our production of food.

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