Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Bees Can Solve Complex Color Puzzles, Study Finds"

As they buzz from blossom to blossom, it might seem that bumblebees need to see only flowers, honey, and hive. But a new study suggests that bumblebees have a surprisingly sophisticated visual system.

Through a series of clever experiments, University College London researchers R. Beau Lotto and Martina Wicklein discovered that bees can solve complex color puzzles.

The scientists say the finding may provide new understanding of human vision and guide the development of similar systems for robots. The study appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' Online Early Edition.

In bees, as with people, vision has as much to do with the brain as it does with the eye. As Lotto explains, the eye sees by detecting light that falls upon its retina. But, the neuroscientist adds, light that's reflected onto the eye from an object, such as a flower, is constantly changing.

To perceive the flower or anything else, the brain must decipher that light....

So how do the bees pick out the blue flowers amid a kaleidoscope of choices?

"What we've discovered is that the way the bees are solving this problem is that they're using relationships between the flowers," Lotto said. Whether it's within the context of a backlit green array or a backlit yellow array, the bees survey the panel and go for the bluest looking flower.

Dale Purves, director of Duke University's Center for Cognitive Science, said via e-mail that the "highly imaginative" study is important because it shows "that relatively simple invertebrates use the same empirical strategy that humans employ."

"The ability to manipulate the environment of bees in ways that would be impossible in human studies promises many additional insights about the deeper nature of vision across a wide range of animals," he added.

...bees are able to tackle such a complex task and have only a million neurons in their tiny brains....

More @ National Geographic

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