SUMMARY Colours are quickly learnt by free-moving bees in operant conditioning settings. In the present study, we report a method using the classical conditioning of the proboscis extension response (PER) in restrained honeybees( Apis mellifera ), which allows bees to learn colours after just a few training trials. We further analysed how visual learning and discrimination is influenced by the quality of a stimulus by systematically varying the chromatic and achromatic properties of the stimuli. Using differential conditioning, we found that faster colour discrimination learning was correlated with reduced colour similarity between stimuli. In experiments with both absolute and differential conditioning, restrained bees showed poor colour discrimination and broad generalisation. This result is in strong contrast to the well-demonstrated ability of bees to finely discriminate colours under free-flight conditions and raises further questions about the temporal and perceptual processes underlying the ability of bees to discriminate and learn colours in different behavioural contexts.
Honeybees, Apis mellifera, were trained to detect coloured disks with either a strong or a weak intensity difference against the background. Green, blue, ultraviolet-reflecting white and grey papers were reciprocally combined as targets or backgrounds, providing strong chromatic and/or achromatic cues. The behavioural performance of the honeybees was always symmetrical for both reciprocal target/background combinations of a colour pair, thus showing that target detection is independent of whether the colour is presented as a background or as a target in combination with the other colour. Bright targets against dim backgrounds and vice versa were detected more reliably than dim target/background combinations. This result favours the general assumption that the detectability of a coloured stimulus increases with increasing intensity.