Visual associative learning in restrained honey bees with intact antennae

PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e37666. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037666. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


A restrained honey bee can be trained to extend its proboscis in response to the pairing of an odor with a sucrose reward, a form of olfactory associative learning referred to as the proboscis extension response (PER). Although the ability of flying honey bees to respond to visual cues is well-established, associative visual learning in restrained honey bees has been challenging to demonstrate. Those few groups that have documented vision-based PER have reported that removing the antennae prior to training is a prerequisite for learning. Here we report, for a simple visual learning task, the first successful performance by restrained honey bees with intact antennae. Honey bee foragers were trained on a differential visual association task by pairing the presentation of a blue light with a sucrose reward and leaving the presentation of a green light unrewarded. A negative correlation was found between age of foragers and their performance in the visual PER task. Using the adaptations to the traditional PER task outlined here, future studies can exploit pharmacological and physiological techniques to explore the neural circuit basis of visual learning in the honey bee.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Antennae*
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Color*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Light
  • Linear Models
  • Reward
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Visual Perception / physiology*