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Bee Navigation Revealed

“We're the only ones who make honey, pollinate flowers, and dress like this!” This famous line of Barry B. Benson from the Bee Movie helped us change everything we think about bees. The story’s morale proves that even the smallest and seemingly insignificant creature can make one heck of a difference this world. However, there’s another breakthrough discovery that scientists have discovered about bees. Far from its 2007 movie adaptation when those bees navigated like crazy, these social insects that live in hives actually navigate through a hit and miss kind of maneuvering. Bees can fly at about 15mph, roughly 24kph but they actually go from one flower to another, revisiting it many times, before moving on to the next.
Bee navigating
In an article from the Huffington post, “a team of researchers from Mary Queen University in London outfitted tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) with miniscule harmonic radio sensors and plastic number tags. They trained the bees to feed on artificial flowers that offered a perch and a sugar solution in the center. The colony’s nest box, positioned in a large field on a British estate, was then situated near five of these artificial flowers. The flowers were arranged in a pentagon shape, with each one 50 meters from the next, which is many times the distance a bumblebee can see. That arrangement prevented the subjects from following each other or spotting the next flower. The “flowers” were watched by motion-sensing video cameras to capture each bee’s feeding. The researchers also chose to complete the experiment in October, when local flowers would have faded and not tempt the bees away from the experimental ones.”

The outcome of the study shows that the routes of the bees were initially longer and more tedious, travelling from one empty flower to another, even revisiting these flowers a couple of times, yet they learned to refine their travel and modify their routes after gaining the exposure and experience. In effect, these bees were able to reduce their flight distance compared to how they first began.

According to the same article, “The learning appeared to be primarily through trial and error. “Each time a bee tried a new route it increased its probability of re-using the new route if it was shorter than the shortest route it had tried before. Otherwise, the new route was abandoned and another route was tested.”

Whether it’s a matter of heuristics or not, it just proves one point: Bee navigation is still complex because they are able to gain experience from flight, thereby decreasing their senseless time buzzing through the air. These findings may lead to a new cognitive laurel for these small social insects, something that we thought only larger-brained mammals are capable of.

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