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Maps in Their Heads

Scientists Study Bees' Navigation Abilities

№ 202/2014 from Jun 03, 2014

According to a recent study by researchers at Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Auckland in New Zealand, bees orient themselves in a manner similar to mammals and birds. Prof. Dr. Randolf Menzel at Freie Universität, Prof. Dr. James Cheeseman at the University of Auckland, and their colleagues found evidence that bees use a cognitive map similar to that used by mammals and birds. The findings were published in the current issue of the online journal PNAS.

In their experiments the researchers demonstrated that bees orient themselves according to the spatial arrangement of the landmarks that they fit into their sun compass. Their flights between the hive and the feeding sites are guided by a memory map. The bees create an internal map in which they store their flight routes. With the help of these flight vectors, they can recognize where they are with regard to the direction and distance from the hive. To rule out that the bees base their flight vectors on the sun compass, the scientists anesthetized some of the bees in their experiment for six hours. Thus the circadian clocks of the bees almost stopped, and upon waking, the bees initially flew in the wrong direction. In the end, the clock-shifted bees flew back to the hive with similar speed and accuracy as the bees that had not been clock-shifted because they were able to use their mental terrain maps. The bees' flights were recorded with a special radar device.


James F. Cheeseman et al: Way-finding in displaced clock-shifted bees proves bees use a cognitive map, in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), Article #14-08039.

Further Information

Randolf Menzel, Institute of Biology – Neurobiology, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-539309, Email: menzel@neurobiologie.fu-berlin.de