Pollinating insects utilise various sensory cues to identify and learn rewarding flower species. One such cue is floral temperature, created by captured sunlight or plant thermogenesis. Bumblebees, honeybees and stingless bees can distinguish flowers based on differences in overall temperature between flowers. We report here that floral temperature often differs between different parts of the flower creating a temperature structure or pattern. Temperature patterns are common, with 55% of 118 plant species thermographed, showing within-flower temperature differences greater than the 2°C difference that bees are known to be able to detect. Using differential conditioning techniques, we show that bumblebees can distinguish artificial flowers differing in temperature patterns comparable to those seen in real flowers. Thus, bumblebees are able to perceive the shape of these within-flower temperature patterns. Floral temperature patterns may therefore represent a new floral cue that could assist pollinators in the recognition and learning of rewarding flowers.
Harrap, M. J. M., Rands, S. A., de Ibarra, N. H., & Whitney, H. M. (2017). The diversity of floral temperature patterns, and their use by pollinators. ELife, 6. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.31262