Social transmission of nectar-robbing behaviour in bumble-bees

Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Jul 22;275(1643):1669-74. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0270.


Social transmission of acquired foraging techniques is rarely considered outside of a vertebrate context. Here, however, we show that nectar robbing by bumble-bees (Bombus terrestris)-an invertebrate behaviour of considerable ecological significance-has the potential to spread through a population at the accelerated rates typical of social transmission. Nectar robbing occurs when individuals either bite through the base of a flower to 'steal' nectar (primary robbing) or use robbing holes that others have made (secondary robbing). We found that experience of foraging from robbed flowers significantly promoted the development of primary robbing in previously legitimate foragers, thus implying that the acquisition of nectar robbing by one individual will facilitate its adoption in others. Our findings suggest that the positive feedback effects of social transmission may potentially play an ecologically important role in the relationship between plants and pollinators.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Learning
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vicia faba