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Bees solve complex colour puzzles

Bees have a much more sophisticated visual system than previously thought, according to a new UCL (University College London) study in which bees were able to solve complicated colour puzzles. The findings shed light on how brains resolve one of the most difficult challenges of vision namely, recognizing different surfaces under different colours of illumination by suggesting that bees solve this problem using their experience with meaningful colour relationships between objects in a scene. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may one day lead to the design of autonomous robotic systems.

In the UCL study, scientists from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology trained bumblebees to find artificial flowers of a particular colour using a nectar reward. They then tested the bees' ability to find the same flowers in scenes that were simultaneously illuminated by four differently coloured lights UV-yellow, blue, yellow and green. To solve this puzzle, the bees had to effectively segment the scene into its different regions of illumination, and then find the correct flowers within each region.

Dr Beau Lotto of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology says: "Although we knew that bees were able to recognise flowers under different global lights, we didn't know whether they could also do this under more complicated conditions, ones that are in fact more typical in nature, such as dappled light across a woodland floor.

"When all the surfaces in a scene are under the same light, identifying a particular surface when the global illumination changes is in principle an easy problem to solve, since all vision needs to do is adapt itself to the scene's average colour, a bit like adapting to the darkness of a cinema. Far more difficult is to recognise the surface or object under multiple lights simultaneously, since adapting to the scene's average colour which was previously thought to be the strategy used by bees won't
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Contact: Judith H Moore
judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk
44-20-7679-7678
University College London
31-Oct-2005


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