ad info

 Headline News brief
 news quiz
 daily almanac

 video archive
 multimedia showcase
 more services

Subscribe to one of our news e-mail lists.
Enter your address:
Get a free e-mail account

 message boards

CNN Websites
 En Español
 Em Português


Networks image
 more networks

 ad info



Radar records flight of the honeybee

Bee in their bonnet: Researchers placed a transponder on the back of a bee (Apis mellifera) to track its flight patterns.  

February 4, 2000
Web posted at: 12:55 p.m. EST (1755 GMT)

Tiny radar transponders attached to the backs of honeybees are allowing scientists to track how the insects learn to forage, according to research published in Thursday's edition of Nature.

"A bee is two and half centimeters long with a brain the size of a large peppercorn," said Elizabeth Capaldi, a researcher at the University of Illinois. "Yet they can fly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from the hive to forage and then make a straight line home. How do they do that?"

The question has been buzzing in entomologists' brains for years.

Visual observations indicate a honeybee takes several test flights before it becomes a true forager, like a commercial airline pilot before he is charged with a plane full of passengers.

A recently developed harmonic radar system, which uses a lightweight transponder to shift a fundamental radio wave through a "harmonic" and re-emit the signal without the aid of a power supply such as a heavy battery, allowed the researchers to track the bees on their orientation flights.

The data shows that each orientation flight is within a narrow sector straight from the hive, Capaldi and colleagues Susan Fahrbach and Gene Robinson report.

"It seems as if they are exploring different sections of the landscape," said Capaldi, "which suggests they need to learn about the landscape progressively."

In that way, honeybees are like travelers visiting a city for the first time. "You might walk around and find a nice restaurant. Then you return to the hotel. Then you go to a monument. Then you find that at the monument that you can point to where the restaurant is," Capaldi said.
Bee tagging
The bee's knees: Andrew Martin, left, a research associate with IACR Rothamsted, and Elizabeth Capaldi, right, a research fellow at the University of Illinois, are in their element observing buzzing bees — without getting stung — in Harpenben, England.  

As the bees gain experience, they fly farther and farther away from the hive, but the duration of each flight remains about the same. They accomplish this feat by flying faster and faster, the scientists report.

"This correlation between distance and speed suggests that bees fly higher on longer orientation flights," writes Thomas Collett, a biologist at the University of Sussex in England, in an accompanying Nature article.

This interpretation of the data means that bees "learn small features of the landscape close to the ground when they are near the hive and larger features when they are farther away," Collett concludes.

Capaldi cautions that the radar tracking system measures position and range, not height.

The entomologists hope their research will answer basic questions about how animals interact with the sensory world. A bee can learn to forage 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from its hive in a four- to five-week life span.

"We have huge brains and we can't do these things," said Capaldi.

Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Mites take toll on honeybees in Northeast
Research will save honeybees, pollination
Satellite tags let white shark's secrets out of bag
Turtle's journey inspires further study

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Enter keyword(s)   go    help

Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.