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Bumblebees: Males Locate Nectar-Filled Flowers Just Like Females, Researchers Say

Nov 15, 2015 08:07 PM EST
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Bumblebee
In a recent experiment, researchers found male bumblebees are able to forage for nectar just as successfully as their female counterparts.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Male bumblebees -- once thought to be good for just sex -- are just as intelligent and competent as their female worker counterparts. New research from Queen Mary University of London has disproved previous beliefs suggesting male bumblebees are dim-witted and lazy. 

Bumblebees have strictly regulated roles within their colonies. While the males are often only looked to for mating, sterile females, otherwise known as workers, have a fairly long list of daily chores. Those include: cleaning the hive, defending the colony, collecting and storing food, and feeding the young. In a recent experiment, researchers tested the abilities of both male and female bumblebees to see if having fewer responsibilities actually equated to laziness, according to a news release.

For their study, researchers trained bumblebees to distinguish between artificial flowers that contained food and those that did not. In doing so, they concluded that males were just as able as females to learn which flowers provided food.

"Despite fundamental differences in the daily habits between male and female bees, this work illustrates that male bees can be clever shoppers in the flower supermarket even when their main interest is in mating," Dr. Stephan Wolf, lead author, said in the release.

Female worker bumblebees are well known for their ability to learn the colors and scents of rewarding flowers, researchers noted. However, the recent study mixed things up a bit by changing the colors of flowers four times in the course of their experiment. This meant the bees had to forget previously learned associations and quickly adapt to new ones. From this, researchers concluded that males are just as good as females when it comes to learning which flowers provide them with delicious nectar.  

A video describing their findings can be found online. Their study was recently published in the journal Animal Behaviour

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