Bees navigate home by ‘reading the sky’

May 19th, 2011 - 12:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, May 19 (IANS) How do bees display this incredible knack of navigating cross-country? Scientists have now hit upon the reason for this — bees are sky readers!

Bees can home in on their hives from 11 km away, thanks to their ability to remember landmarks and read information from the sky.

Led by Prof ShaoWu Zhang from The Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, the research team released bees in Canberra, where the landmarks include Black Mountain, Mount Ainslie and Lake Burley Griffin, etc.

“We found that from four kilometres onwards, honeybees homing from the eastern direction return to their hives sooner than bees from the north, west and south,” says Prof. Zhang, according to a Vision Science statement.

“Also, when we released these bees from seven kilometres and above, only those from the east can successfully find their way back.

“This is because bees released from the east can see Black Mountain in the opposite direction. It also helps if they are released in the early afternoon, when the sun is situated in the west, too.”

In the study, the team caught foragers as they returned to their hives and displaced them in a black box. The bees were then released in novel spots at various distances up to 13 kilometres in north, east, south and west.

“In their forage trips, one way that honeybees use to find their way home is by storing distance and directional information when they venture out,” Prof. Zhang says. “In other words, they try to go back the way they came.

“Catching them as soon as they reach their hives and placing them in a black box sets their pre-calculated information back to zero, so the bees are deprived of any directional information in relation to the hive.

“By doing this, we can confirm that they are relying solely on knowledge that they have gathered about the landscape to travel home,” said Prof Zhang.

The team also used new technology to track the bee’s journey. They placed Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on each bee and left a receiver at the hive entrance.

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