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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
Art-loving bees prefer Sunflowers
Bee on Sunflowers
Bees in the experiment liked Van Gogh's Sunflowers best
Bees prefer floral paintings - even if they have never seen flowers before, scientists have suggested.

University of London's Queen Mary college researchers put four paintings - two of flowers - beneath bees' flight paths, and tracked where they landed.

The bees landed on the two most floral. Van Gogh's Sunflowers was favourite.

The study, made on three colonies raised in captivity and which had never seen flowers, was reported in the journal Optics and Laser Technology.

These features are recognised by bees that have never been exposed to flowers before
Professor Lars Chittka
About 11% of approaches to the flower paintings ended with a landing, compared to just 4% with the other paintings, the study found.

As well as Sunflowers, the team showed the bees Paul Gauguin's A Vase of Flowers, Patrick Caulfield's Pottery, and Fernand Leger's Still Life with a Beer Mug.

The bees flew towards the Van Gogh picture 146 times and landed on it 15 times.

A Vase of Flowers produced 81 approaches and 11 landings.

Caulfield's Pottery produced 138 approaches but only four landings.

And Still Life with a Beer Mug attracted bees on 117 occasions, but again only four landings.

Blue appeal

Professor Lars Chittka said: "The results show that the flower paintings have captured the essence of floral features from a bee's point of view, and that these features are recognised by bees that have never been exposed to flowers before.

"Flowers contain all the goods that a bee needs to thrive - pollen and nectar - and selection has therefore favoured bees with 'aesthetic preferences' for those flowers which offer the best bonanzas."

A bee's favourite colour is blue, he added, which is associated with high-nectar flowers.

This could be why the bees were strongly drawn to the blue "Vincent" signature in Van Gogh's painting, as well as the blue blooms in A Vase of Flowers, and a light blue square in Still Life with a Beer Mug.

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