Accelerated behavioural development changes fine-scale search behaviour and spatial memory in honey bees (Apis mellifera L.)

Tomokazu Ushitani, Clint J. Perry, Ken Cheng, Andrew B. Barron*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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Normally, worker honey bees (Apis mellifera) begin foraging when more than 2 weeks old as adults, but if individual bees or the colony is stressed, bees often begin foraging precociously. Here, we examined whether bees that accelerated their behavioural development to begin foraging precociously differed from normal-aged foragers in cognitive performance. We used a social manipulation to generate precocious foragers from small experimental colonies and tested their performance in a free-flight visual reversal learning task, and a test of spatial memory. Toassess spatial memory, bees were trained tolearn the location of a small sucrose feeder within an array of three landmarks. In tests, the feeder and one landmark were removed and the search behaviour of the bees was recorded. Performance of precocious and normal-aged foragers did not differ in a visual reversal learning task, but the two groups showed a clear difference in spatial memory. Flight behaviour suggested normal-aged foragers were better able to infer the position of the removed landmark and feeder relative to the remaining landmarks than precocious foragers. Previous studies have documented the cognitive decline of old foragers, but this is the first suggestion of a cognitive deficit in young foragers. These data imply that worker honey bees continue their cognitive development during the adult stage. These findings may also help to explain why precocious foragers perform quite poorly as foragers and have a higher than normal loss rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-418
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Navigation
  • Precocious forager
  • Reversal learning
  • Social insect
  • Spatial memory
  • Temporal polyethism


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