|The New York Times, Oct 28, 2003 pF3
col 01 (14 col in)
OBSERVATORY. (Science Desk)(new research on honeybees
use of vector navigation to return home)(includes other science
news) Henry Fountain.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2003 The New York Times Company
Honeybees can go home again, and again, and again. Their ability
to return directly to the hive after a rambling flight in pursuit of
food is remarkable, although exactly how they accomplish this has
The most reasonable explanation is that, like some other insects,
they use vector navigation, constantly calculating the required
direction of homeward travel from their movements during foraging.
Using radar, scientists from Britain and Germany have now
provided strong evidence that honeybees navigate this way. The
researchers outfitted honeybees with tiny transponders so they could
In a large mown field outside a German village, they allowed the
bees to reach a feeding station. But before the bees left to return
to the hive, the researchers moved them to another location in the
field. A paper describing the work was published online in The
Proceedings of the Royal Society of Britain.
The researchers found that the displaced bees still flew in the
direction that would have taken them home from the feeding station.
In other words, they used the navigational calculations they had
made while foraging. Some even completed the entire length of what
would have been the return flight before starting to search for
The bees appeared to be on automatic pilot; they ignored large
artificial landscape features placed in the return path and
compensated for wind drift. Previous studies have shown that bees
measure distance traveled using the flow of images of the ground
across their retinas. The researchers suggest that bees are using
this tool, plus their ability to orient themselves according to the
sun's angle in the sky, to make their return journeys.