Complex memories in honeybees: can there be more than two?

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2006 Apr;192(4):409-16. doi: 10.1007/s00359-005-0079-0. Epub 2005 Dec 20.


Foraging honeybees are likely to learn visual and chemical cues associated with many different food sources. Here, we explore how many such sources can be memorized and recalled. Marked bees were trained to visit two (or three) sugar feeders, each placed at a different outdoor location and carrying a different scent. We then tested the ability of the bees to recall these locations and fly to them, when the training scents were blown into the hive, and the scents and food at the feeders were removed. When trained on two feeder locations, each associated with a different scent, the bees could correctly recall the location associated with each scent. However, this ability broke down when the number of scents and feeder locations was increased to three. Performance was partially restored when each of the three training feeders was endowed with an additional cue, namely, a distinct colour. Our results suggest that bees can recall a maximum of two locations when each is associated with a different scent. However, this number can be increased if the scent cues are augmented by visual cues. These findings have implications for the ways in which associations are established and laid down in honeybee memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Color
  • Cues
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Memory / physiology
  • Orientation
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Smell
  • Vision, Ocular