Spontaneous quantity discrimination of artificial flowers by foraging honeybees [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Scarlett R. Howard, Jürgen Schramme, Jair E. Garcia, Leslie Ng, Aurore Avargues-Weber, Andrew D. Greentree, and Adrian G. Dyer

Many animals need to process numerical and quantity information in order to survive. Spontaneous quantity discrimination allows differentiation between two or more quantities without reinforcement or prior training on any numerical task. It is useful for assessing food resources, aggressive interactions, predator avoidance and prey choice. Honeybees have previously demonstrated landmark counting, quantity matching, use of numerical rules, quantity discrimination and arithmetic, but have not been tested for spontaneous quantity discrimination. In bees, spontaneous quantity discrimination could be useful when assessing the quantity of flowers available in a patch and thus maximizing foraging efficiency. In the current study, we assessed the spontaneous quantity discrimination behaviour of honeybees. Bees were trained to associate a single yellow artificial flower with sucrose. Bees were then tested for their ability to discriminate between 13 different quantity comparisons of artificial flowers (numeric ratio range: 0.08–0.8). Bees significantly preferred the higher quantity only in comparisons where ‘1’ was the lower quantity and where there was a sufficient magnitudinal distance between quantities (e.g. 1 versus 12, 1 versus 4, and 1 versus 3 but not 1 versus 2). Our results suggest a possible evolutionary benefit to choosing a foraging patch with a higher quantity of flowers when resources are scarce.

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