Disciplines/fields: Animal Behaviour, Cognition, Colour Vision, Computational Neuroscience, Foraging, Navigation, Social Learning

Duration: 3 sessions

Course Content

  1. Spatial memory in the economy of nature – bees as a model
  2. Seeing the world in strange colours – how bees (and other insects) perceive the world
  3. Cognition in bees – behavioural capacities, neuronal models and evolution


Participants should gain an understanding of the fascinating sensory, behavioural and cognitive capacities of social insects. With their relatively small and accessible nervous system, these animals are ideal models to explore just how much computation is possible with a miniature nervous system, and indeed to understand the neural underpinnings of cognition. We will learn that relatively minor tweaks in neural circuitries can mediate relatively large shifts in cognitive capacities.


Briscoe, A. & Chittka, L. (2001). The evolution of colour vision in insects. Annual Review of Entomology, 46: 471-510.
Chittka, L. & Niven, J. (2009). Are bigger brains better? Current Biology, 19: R995-R1008.
Chittka, L., Rossiter, S.J., Skorupski, P. & Fernando, C. (2012). What is comparable in comparative cognition? Philosophical Transactions Of The Royal Society, 3671: 2677-2685.
Leadbeater, E. & Chittka L. (2007). Social learning in insects - From miniature brains to consensus building. Current Biology, 17: R703-713.
All these articles are available for free download from my lab web page:


Lars Chittka obtained his MSc (1991) and PhD (1993) at the Free University of Berlin under the guidance of Randolf Menzel. He is now a professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he founded a Department of Psychology in 2008.

Lars Chittka is distinguished for his work on the evolutionary ecology of sensory systems and cognition, using insect-flower interactions as a model. He developed perceptual models of bee colour vision, allowing the derivation of optimal receiver systems as well as a quantification of the evolutionary pressures shaping flower signals. Chittka also made fundamental contributions to the understanding of animal cognition and its fitness benefits in the economy of nature. He explored phenomena such as numerosity, speed-accuracy tradeoffs, false memories and social learning in bees. His discoveries have made a substantial impact on the understanding of animal intelligence and its neural-computational underpinnings.

Chittka been an Editor of Biology’s leading open access journal PLoS Biology since 2004, and has also been on the Editorial Board of the venerable Proc Roy Soc Lond B (2010-2012) and the Quarterly Review of Biology (2004-2010); he is a member of the Faculty of 1000, and was an ERC Panel Chair (Consolidator Grants LS8, 2010-2013). Chittka is a recipient of the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2014) and an ERC Advanced Grant (2014-2019). He is also an elected Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS) the Royal Entomological Society (FRES) as well as the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB). He received the Lesley Goodman Award of the Royal Entomological Society in 2006.