Published On: Wed, Jun 20th, 2018

Bees Can Identify Flowers by Patterns of Scent, Research Shows

New research from the University of Bristol and London’s Queen Mary University found that bumblebees can differentiate between flowers based on each bloom’s pattern of scent.

Flowers are known for their color patterns, but their scents are also arranged in patterns.

“If you look at a flower with a microscope, you can often see that the cells that produce the flower’s scent are arranged in patterns,” said Dave Lawson, lead study author, in a statement.

photo Alyson Jones

The researchers used artificial flowers in the study with identical scent patterns to their living counterparts. The results, they say, demonstrate that scent patterning may be a signal to bees.

The faux flowers were given ‘scent glands,’ which were arranged in a cross or circle pattern. Bees deciphered the sequence using their feelers. Taking the experiment a step further, the researchers found that once the bees identified a scent pattern, they gravitated towards unscented flowers that had the same visual aesthetic.

“If bees can learn patterns using one sense (smell) and then transfer this to a different sense (vision), it makes sense that flowers advertise in lots of ways at the same time, as learning one signal will mean that the bee is primed to respond positively to different signals that they have never encountered,” said senior author Sean Rands. “Advertising agencies would be very excited if the same thing happened in humans.”

Professor Lars Chittka of Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said the researchers were surprised by the results.

“We already knew that bees were clever, but we were really surprised by the fact that bees could learn invisible patterns on flowers – patterns that were just made of scent,” he said.

The study was part of ongoing research efforts at the University of Bristol to learn more about how flowers communicate with their pollinators.

Ongoing research into bees has found that these insects are smarter and more complex than originally thought. Another new study found that honey bees can be taught to understand that zero is less than one.

With bee populations dwindling across the world, researchers are taking a closer look at these vital insects which pollinate food crops. The growing concern over the future of bees has led to the EU voting to ban pesticides linked to recent bee deaths. Under the regulations, outdoor use of thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin will be banned in all EU member states.

Author: Jacob Maslow

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