Bumblebees distinguish floral scent patterns, and can transfer these to corresponding visual patterns

Dave Lawson, Lars Chittka, Heather Whitney, Sean Rands*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
429 Downloads (Pure)


Flowers act as multisensory billboards to pollinators by using a range of sensory modalities such as visual patterns and scents. Different floral organs release differing compositions and quantities of the volatiles contributing to floral scent, suggesting that scent may be patterned within flowers. Early experiments suggested that pollinators can distinguish between the scents of differing floral regions, but little is known about how these potential scent patterns might influence pollinators. We show that bumblebees can learn different spatial patterns of the same scent, and that they are better at learning to distinguish between flowers when the scent pattern corresponds to a matching visual pattern. Surprisingly, once bees have learnt the spatial arrangement of a scent pattern, they subsequently prefer to visit novel unscented flowers that have an identical arrangement of visual marks, suggesting that multimodal floral signals may exploit the mechanisms by which learnt information is stored by the bee.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180661
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1880
Early online date13 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2018


  • crossmodal learning
  • floral volatiles
  • multimodal signal olfaction
  • plant–pollinator interaction
  • sensory modality


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