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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e19669. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019669. Epub 2011 May 13.

Large scale homing in honeybees.

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BEEgroup, Biocentre, Würzburg University, Würzburg, Germany.


Honeybee foragers frequently fly several kilometres to and from vital resources, and communicate those locations to their nest mates by a symbolic dance language. Research has shown that they achieve this feat by memorizing landmarks and the skyline panorama, using the sun and polarized skylight as compasses and by integrating their outbound flight paths. In order to investigate the capacity of the honeybees' homing abilities, we artificially displaced foragers to novel release spots at various distances up to 13 km in the four cardinal directions. Returning bees were individually registered by a radio frequency identification (RFID) system at the hive entrance. We found that homing rate, homing speed and the maximum homing distance depend on the release direction. Bees released in the east were more likely to find their way back home, and returned faster than bees released in any other direction, due to the familiarity of global landmarks seen from the hive. Our findings suggest that such large scale homing is facilitated by global landmarks acting as beacons, and possibly the entire skyline panorama.

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