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Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 768108, 8 pages
Research Article

Social Learning in Bumblebees (Bombus impatiens): Worker Bumblebees Learn to Manipulate and Forage at Artificial Flowers by Observation and Communication within the Colony

Canadian Pollination Initiative (CANPOLIN), School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada N1G 2W1

Received 17 May 2013; Revised 7 September 2013; Accepted 8 September 2013

Academic Editor: James C. Nieh

Copyright © 2013 Hamida B. Mirwan and Peter G. Kevan. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Social learning occurs when one individual learns from another, mainly conspecific, often by observation, imitation, or communication. Using artificial flowers, we studied social learning by allowing test bumblebees to (a) see dead bumblebees arranged in foraging positions or (b) watch live bumblebees actually foraging or (c) communicate with nestmates within their colony without having seen foraging. Artificial flowers made from 1.5 mL microcentrifuge tubes with closed caps were inserted through the centres of blue 7 cm plastic discs as optical signals through which the bees could not forage. The reinforcer reward syrup was accessible only through holes in the sides of the tubes beneath the blue discs. Two colonies (A and B) were used in tandem along with control (C and D) colonies. No bee that was not exposed (i.e., from the control colonies (C and D)) to social learning discovered the access holes. Inside colony B, we imprisoned a group of bees that were prevented from seeing or watching. Bees that saw dead bumblebees in foraging positions, those that watched nest-mates foraging, and those that had only in-hive communication with successful foragers all foraged successfully. The means of in-hive communication are not understood and warrant intense investigation.