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article imageExploring the memory patterns of bees

By Tim Sandle     Mar 8, 2015 in Science
London - In a new study, researchers have demonstrated the occurrence of false memories in bumblebees. This is a pattern that seems to occur in other bees as well.
Bumblebees can sometimes experience glitches in their long-term memories. This is in relation to which flowers yield the best nectar.
Scientists working at Queen Mary University of London have shown that buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) can sometimes merge memories of flower patterns such that they visit blossoms that combine colors and patterns of flowers that had previously been nectar-filled.
Discussing the research with Science News, lead researcher Lars Chittka notes: “We suspect that memory merging may be as common in animal minds as in human minds, but no one has explored this in animals before, so to find it in bumblebees was exciting."
For the study, New Scientist notes, the scientists trained bees to feed on a nectar-like substance they found within artificial flowers that were colored either yellow or with black and white rings. When the researchers tested bees that were presented yellow flowers before the black-and-white patterned ones, they found that, both in the short term and in the long term, the bees preferred the flower type that they had been exposed to last. But bees that were presented with the black-and-white flowers before the yellow blooms started to prefer an entirely new flower type — a yellow-and-black pattered one — apparently mixing up the memories of the two flower types that had rewarded them with nectar previously.
Therefore, it seems that bees can memorize more than one flower type. However, bees make more mistakes when they juggle multiple memories than if they just focus on one flower type.
The findings have been published in the journal Current Biology. The research paper is titled "Merging of Long-Term Memories in an Insect."
More about Bees, Honeybees, Memory, shortterm memory
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