What’s small, buzzes here and there and visits flowers?
If you said bees or hummingbirds, you got it. And you wouldn’t be the 1st if you mixed the two up. In Medieval European countries, some known as bees the tiniest birds. In Chinese and Japanese, what for hummingbird translate into “bee bird.” Today we contact the tiniest hummingbird – weighing significantly less than a cent and only a bit larger than the biggest bee – the bee hummingbird.
And now several researchers say we ought to embrace our background of lumping the two together. The way scientists study bees could help them study hummingbird behavior, too, they argue in a review released Tuesday in Biology Letters.
Scientists first compared the two back the 1970s when learning how family pets forage. The idea is that family pets use a kind of internal math to make choices so that you can minimize the work it requires to earn maximum benefits. Researchers at the time focused on movement rules, like the order in which they visited flowers, and where flowers were located relative to others. It was “almost like an algorithm” for efficient foraging, stated David Pritchard, a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who led the analysis. Hummingbirds and bees had similar solutions.
But the study of optimal foraging, since it was called, overlooked what animals learned all about their environments. Bees decipher which flowers are more rewarding than others. They learn about color and how exactly to manipulate a flower among other information. Decades before the concept of ideal foraging, Frank Bené, an American ornithologist, learned that hummingbirds learned all about color too, unlike the belief that these were innately drawn to red. Hummingbirds likewise remembered locations of feeders that he moved in his garden.
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As the field of animal cognition emerged, hummingbird and bee study diverged. Neuroscientists and behavioral ecologists created methods to study bee tendencies in naturalistic adjustments. Hummingbird experts compared hummingbirds to other birds and borrowed strategies from psychology to study their capacity to learn in the lab.