Sydney, Apr 6 : Bee behaviour is not hard-wired as once believed, say researchers who found that the insects learn to recognise particular bushes, trees and flowers.
According to scientists, the insects are surprisingly sophisticated at navigating their natural environment.
Lead author Dr Adrian Dyer, an Australian vision researcher from Monash University in Melbourne, said that bees could learn new tasks, despite their tiny brain size.
"This gives us a real insight into how neurones work and how neurones can interact and learn how to solve tasks," ABC Online quoted him, as saying.
In the study, the research team conducted two experiments using photographs of trees to train the bees to recognise complex images as part of their daily chores.
"We devised an experiment which tackles a problem bees have to solve in their normal daily life. Bees have to fly in fairly complex environments like forests and use a variety of visual information to find flowers and return to their hives," he said.
"The question was to see if they could do the very fine discrimination tasks and we were reasonably surprised they were very, very good at it," he added.
In the first experiment the bees were trained to recognise one photo of a tree by drinking a nectar reward when they flew to it. The bees were encouraged to avoid another photo of a tree by being given bitter tasting quinine when they flew to it.
The sucrose and quinine were taken away after 120 visits and the researchers found the bees still flew to the image they'd been trained to recognise and avoided the other, even when the images were swapped around.
The researchers ran a second experiment to ensure the research was ecologically valid.
This time there were 40 training sessions and the quinine was replaced with water. Again, the bees were trained to recognise one tree and avoid the other.
Although the bees in the first experiment were better at recognising the image, those in the shorter training group were able to complete the task in a time frame that's more relevant to their natural foraging.
The research suggests that bees can learn to recognise a particular bush, tree or flower, Dyer said.
"Bees which had been conditioned to the stimuli became very good at recognising it, which is quite exciting," he said.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.