• Bumblebee (<i>Bombus lucorum</i>) flies mit extended tongue towards a plantain flower (<i>Plantago</i>)
Chair of Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology

Spaethe lab - Sensory ecology

The field of sensory ecology aims to understand how organisms of all kinds obtain and use information about their environment. The sensory organs provide the only means of communication from the environment to the nervous system. Thus, the sensory systems of a species can be understood as a result of the interaction between the species and its specific environment in the course of evolution.

Our group is interested in the function, development and evolution of the visual system in insects. Using a comparative approach, we investigate the reception and neuronal processing of visual information and its evolution in various hymenopterans (bees, wasps, ants, sawflies), but also in beetles (Coleoptera) and water bears (Tardigrada). Further, we are interested in the function and evolution of visual signals in flower-pollinator interactions.


  • Mechanisms and evolution of visual perception
  • Psychophysics of colour vision
  • Visual learning and memory
  • Mechanisms and evolution of visual signals in flower-pollinator interaction
  • Sensory perception in water bears

Selected publications

  • Colour vision in ants (Formicidae, Hymenoptera). Yilmaz, Ayse; Spaethe, Johannes. In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 377(1862). The Royal Society, 2022.
  • Best be(e) on low fat: linking nutrient perception, regulation and fitness. Ruedenauer, Fabian A.; Raubenheimer, David; Kessner-Beierlein, Daniela; Grund-Mueller, Nils; Noack, Lisa; Spaethe, Johannes; Leonhardt, Sara D. In Ecology Letters, 23(3), pp. 545–554. 2020.
  • Immediate early genes in social insects: a tool to identify brain regions involved in complex behaviors and molecular processes underlying neuroplasticity. Sommerlandt, Frank M. J.; Brockmann, Axel; Rössler, Wolfgang; Spaethe, Johannes. In Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 76(4), pp. 637–651. 2019.
  • Length of stimulus presentation and visual angle are critical for efficient visual PER conditioning in the restrained honey bee, Apis mellifera.. Lichtenstein, Leonie; Lichtenstein, Matthias; Spaethe, Johannes. In Journal of Experimental Biology, 221(14), p. jeb179622. 2018.
  • Innate colour preference, individual learning and memory retention in the ant Camponotus blandus.. Yilmaz, Ayse; Dyer, Adrian G.; Rössler, Wolfgang; Spaethe, Johannes. In Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(18), pp. 3315–3326. The Company of Biologists Ltd, 2017.