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Bees recognise the colour of a surface under different colours of lights

Bees like humans can continue a surface from its colour even when the scene’s global illuminant changes (which is a phenomenon called colour constancy). It is not known, however, whether they can also generate colour constant behaviour in more natural complex scenes that are lit by multiple lights simultaneously, conditions in which most computational models of colour constancy fail.

To test this, bumblebees were raised in a highly controlled, yet ecological relevant environment consisting of a matrix of 64 artificial flowers under four spatially distinct lights. As in nature, the bees had no direct access to information about the illuminants or flowers. Furthermore, the background of all the flowers in the matrix was black, independent of illumination. The stimulus information presented to the bee was, therefore, far more constrained than that normally experienced in nature. Despite this, the bees learned to identify the rewarded flowers in each differently illuminated region of the matrix, even when the illumination of one of the regions was switch with one not previously experienced.

These behavioural results suggest that colour constant behaviour is not resolved by simply adapting to the global average of spectral stimulus, nor even the spectral contrast between an object and its immediate surround, but can use behaviorally relevant contrast relationships between statistically dependent, but visually distinct stimulus elements of scenes.

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Lotto, R.B. and Wicklein, M. (2005)

Bees encode behaviourally significant spectral relationships in complex scenes to resolve stimulus ambiguity.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 102:16870-16874.
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