Factors determining visual detection distance to real flowers by bumble bees
Plants use visual signals to attract pollinators and direct them to their flowers. Visual capabilities of bees have been extensively studied mostly using artificial paper models. However, there is no empirical determination of the maximal detection distance (MDD) or minimal subtended visual angle (MSVA) of real flowers. Using a six armed radial maze, we tested MDD and MSVA of 12 types of natural and manipulated real flowers by bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) workers. Bees were initially trained to obtain sugar solution at target flowers that were presented at close range on a mobile divider at the back of one of the six arms. Bees were individually marked and tested. For bees that passed the short range test, we gradually increased the distance of the target flower, until the number of successful choices reached chance level, indicating that they could not see the target flowers. The results show that MSVA of flowers is correlated with flower diameter but not with MDD. The variation in MDD to natural flowers by bumble bee workers can be best predicted by: MDD = flower coloured area / (contour line * green contrast). Contour line length determines flower dissectedness. Full circular flowers can be detected from longer distance than dissected flowers with identical diameter. We hypothesize that dissected flower shapes might be compensated by their higher attractiveness for bees. Empirical determination of real flower MDD and MSVA is important for studying bee foraging behaviour, pollinator induced evolution of flower traits and validation of neurophysiological visual models.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.