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Honeybees use the skyline in orientation

Honeybees use the skyline in orientation

The following title is included in this week's posted papers focussing on navigation and orientation.

Summaries of all papers have been circulated to members of the Animal Navigation Forum and full papers are available in the ANG Resources directory at the link below (available to non-members).

Towne, W. F., Ritrovato, A. E., Esposto, A. & Brown, D. F. 2017 Honeybees use the skyline in orientation. The Journal of Experimental Biology 220, 2476-2485. doi: 10.1242/jeb.160002. Towne6 2017

In view-based navigation, animals acquire views of the landscape from various locations and then compare the learned views with current views in order to orient in certain directions or move toward certain destinations.

One landscape feature of great potential usefulness in view-based navigation is the skyline, the silhouette of terrestrial objects against the sky, as it is distant, relatively stable and easy to detect. The skyline has been shown to be important in the view-based navigation of ants, but no flying insect has yet been shown definitively to use the skyline in this way.

Here, we show that honeybees do indeed orient using the skyline. A feeder was surrounded with an artificial replica of the natural skyline there, and the bees' departures toward the nest were recorded from above with a video camera under overcast skies (to eliminate celestial cues). When the artificial skyline was rotated, the bees' departures were rotated correspondingly, showing that the bees oriented by the artificial skyline alone.

We discuss these findings in the context of the likely importance of the skyline in long-range homing in bees, the likely importance of altitude in using the skyline, the likely role of ultraviolet light in detecting the skyline, and what we know about the bees' ability to resolve skyline features.

Pic from Honeybee Centre

  • 13 July 2017
  • Animal Navigation Group

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