Created with Sketch.

Training Honey Bees With Sunflower’s Scent

There have been several studies and research programs looking at honey bees and their link to crop production. 

In a recent study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers were successful in training honey bees to pick up on the scent of sunflower to seek them out for pollination. The experts report that honey bees prompted with odors similar to sunflowers supported a significant increase in sunflower crop production. 

“We show that it’s possible to condition honey bees to a rewarded odor inside the colony, and this experience modifies the bees’ odor-guided behaviors later,” said study co-author Walter Farina of the Universidad de Buenos Aires. “The most surprising and relevant result is that the foraging preferences for the target crop are so prolonged and intensive that it promoted significant increases in the crop yields.” 

The team had previously demonstrated that honey bees could develop long-term memories related to food scents inside the nest. They also found that these memories could influence which plants the bees pollinated. 

To train bees to forage on sunflowers, the researchers developed a simple synthetic combination of odors that the bees would associate with the natural floral scent of sun- flowers. Next, they supplied the hives with food that contained their new formula. 

The investigation confirmed that early experiences with the scent of sunflowers established memories that later influenced the bees’ foraging preferences – which the experts derived by decoding their waggle dances. 

The scent training led the bees to visit sunflowers more often. Furthermore, hives that had trained bees also brought more sunflower pollen back to the hive. Ultimately, sunflower seed production was boosted by 29 to 57%. 

“Through this procedure, it is possible to bias honey bee foraging activity and increase yields significantly,” said Farina. “In other words, pollination services might be improved in pollinator-dependent crops by using simple mimic odors as part of a precision pollination strategy.”