How do bees first find their flowers?

Backed by @sciencemug and Cindy Wu
Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Open Access
Raised of $15,500 Goal
Ended on 12/11/14
Campaign Ended
  • $31
  • 1%
  • Finished
    on 12/11/14

About This Project

When bees explore their surroundings for the first time, how do they know where or how to find flowers? How come they don't try to feed from, say a stop sign or a car's tail light? It turns out they have "innate" biases that help them discover pollen and nectar. Here, we propose to study the exact nature of these biases by observing bee behaviour using high-tech tracking technology.

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What is the context of this research?

Many researchers have studied bee choices by decomposing a flower into its constituents. Color, shape, size, symmetry and other aspects of a flower were presented to bees and their choices recorded. For example, when studying color, one might print a plain blue and a plain yellow paper disc, and look at where most of the bees land.

The problem with this approach is that it is highly artificial. If bees decide to land on a blue disc, does that mean in nature bees like blue flowers? Well, it's hard to tell...

You may wonder why not use real flowers? The problem with real flowers is that each one looks slightly different. So if we find out that bees prefer a blue flower over a yellow one, we just don't know if they like that particular blue flower, or they like all blue flowers.

What is the significance of this project?

If we take a step back from this experiment, and look at the big picture, we are asking questions about how brains such as bee brains use information to solve life-and-death problems (finding the first flower is one such problem!).

Learning about this special way of processing information is important if we want to fully understand pollinators that support our food systems, and it is important understand fundamental questions about information processing by any organism that possesses a brain.

What are the goals of the project?

New developments in genetics allow us to produce flowers that look exactly the same. This gives us a new opportunity! We can show bees special flowers that show one particular aspect that we are interested in (e.g. colour), and be confident about the results.

How to record bee behaviour?

  1. Radio-Frequency Identification: The picture at the top of this page shows bees that are tagged with chips. These chips allow us to track individual bees movement in a controlled flight cage.
  2. HD Motion-Sensitive Video: This new technology allows us to watch as bees hover, approach, touch flowers with their antennas, and land on flowers. Each of these behaviours leading up to a landing give crucial information about how much they like a flower and what in particular they like about it.


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I will perform the experiment with support from Dr. Beverley Glover's flower genetics lab at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge UK), and Dr. Catherine Plowright's bee lab at the University of Ottawa (Ottawa, Canada).

This funding helps answer fundamental questions about how bees and flowers developed their close relationships, which could lead to solutions for protecting bee populations across the world.

Meet the Team

Levente Orban
Levente Orban

Team Bio

The focus of my research is to understand how cognitive systems, such as bees, process information to make adaptive choices. I used bumblebees as a model to understand visual information processing in untrained and "flower-naive" bees, and artificial neural networks to help generate novel predictions about their behaviour.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Press and Media

This video clip is an example of a motion-sensitive recording. The bee on the clip hovers, approaches, and touches one of the shapes with its antenna.

Selected References

Orbán, L.L., & Plowright, C.M.S. (2013). The effect of flower-like and non-flower-like visual properties on choice of unrewarding patterns by bumblebees. Naturwissenschaften.
View the press release about this publication.

Whitney, H.M., Milne, G., Rands, S.A., Vignolini, S., Martin, C., & Glover, B.J. (2013). The influence of pigmentation patterning on bumblebee foraging from flowers of Antirrhinum magus. Naturwissenschaften.

Project Backers

  • 2Backers
  • 1%Funded
  • $31Total Donations
  • $15.50Average Donation
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