Intensity and the ratios of compounds in the scent of snapdragon flowers affect scent discrimination by honeybees (Apis mellifera)

Geraldine A. Wright, Amy Lutmerding, Natalia Dudareva, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Floral scent is used by pollinators during foraging to identify and discriminate among flowers. The ability to discriminate among scents may depend on both scent intensity and the ratios of the concentrations of the volatile compounds of a complex mixture rather than on the presence of a few compounds. We used four scent-emitting cultivars of snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) to test this hypothesis by examining the ability of honeybees to differentiate among their scents. Each cultivar produced three monoterpenes (myrcene, E-β-ocimene, and linalool) and five phenylpropanoids (methylbenzoate, acetophenone, dimethoxytoluene, cis-methylcinnamate, and trans-methylcinnamate). Cultivars were reliably classified by their scents in a canonical discriminant analysis. Honeybees were unable to discriminate among the scents of flowers of the same cultivar in our assay. The ability of honeybees to discriminate among the scents of different cultivars was a function of the intensity of the floral scent. Discrimination was also correlated to the distance among the scents described by the discriminant analysis; the cultivars that had the greatest differences observed in the discriminant analysis were the easiest to discriminate. Our results show that honeybees are capable of using all of the floral volatiles to discriminate subtle differences in scent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-114
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Discrimination
  • Floral scent
  • Honeybees
  • Olfaction
  • Snapdragon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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