Bumble Bees (Bombus terrestris) Use Time-Memory to Associate Reward with Color and Time of Day

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Circadian clocks regulate ecologically important complex behaviors in honey bees, but it is not clear whether similar capacities exist in other species of bees. One key behavior influenced by circadian clocks is time-memory, which enables foraging bees to precisely time flower visitation to periods of maximal pollen or nectar availability and reduces the costs of visiting a non-rewarding flower patch. Bumble bees live in smaller societies and typically forage over shorter distances than honey bees, and it is therefore not clear whether they can similarly associate reward with time of day. We trained individually marked bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) workers to forage for sugar syrup in a flight cage with yellow or blue feeders rewarding either during the morning or evening. After training for over two weeks, we recorded all visitations to colored feeders filled with only water. We performed two experiments, each with a different colony. We found that bees tended to show higher foraging activity during the morning and evening training sessions compared to other times during the day. During the test day, the trained bees were more likely to visit the rewarding rather than the non-rewarding colored feeders at the same time of day during the test sessions, indicating that they associated time of day and color with the sugar syrup reward. These observations lend credence to the hypothesis that bumble bees have efficient time-memory, indicating that this complex behavior is not limited to honey bees that evolved sophisticated social foraging behaviors over large distances.

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