Odor discrimination in classical conditioning of proboscis extension in two stingless bee species in comparison to Africanized honeybees

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2007 Nov;193(11):1089-99. doi: 10.1007/s00359-007-0260-8. Epub 2007 Aug 21.


Learning in insects has been extensively studied using different experimental approaches. One of them, the proboscis extension response (PER) paradigm, is particularly well suited for quantitative studies of cognitive abilities of honeybees under controlled conditions. The goal of this study was to analyze the capability of three eusocial bee species to be olfactory conditioned in the PER paradigm. We worked with two Brazilian stingless bees species, Melipona quadrifasciata and Scaptotrigona aff. depilis, and with the invasive Africanized honeybee, Apis mellifera. These three species present very different recruitment strategies, which could be related with different odor-learning abilities. We evaluated their gustatory responsiveness and learning capability to discriminate floral odors. Gustatory responsiveness was similar for the three species, although S. aff. depilis workers showed fluctuations along the experimental period. Results for the learning assays revealed that M. quadrifasciata workers can be conditioned to discriminate floral odors in a classical differential conditioning protocol and that this discrimination is maintained 15 min after training. During conditioning, Africanized honeybees presented the highest discrimination, for M. quadrifasciata it was intermediate, and S. aff. depilis bees presented no discrimination. The differences found are discussed considering the putative different learning abilities and procedure effect for each species.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Odorants
  • Reward
  • Sense Organs / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Taste / physiology