How Do Bees Know The Shortest Route Back To Their Nests?
The term “beeline” exists for a good reason. When bees travel back to their nests after spending their time looking for prey and pollinating flowers, they always take the shortest route back to their nests. How do bees know which way to go? It is surprising that an insect with a brain as large as a grain of rice is able to return back to its nest at all, let alone taking the shortest route. Bees do have eyes, which they use while traveling. But there are actually several parts of a bees brain that make navigation an easy task for them. Researchers have recently learned that bees memorize an environment’s layout while departing their nests. Bees then refer to these memories upon returning to their nests. Cutting edge technology has allowed researchers to observe the functioning of a bees brain while it is navigating through a simulated environment.
Bees travel far from their nests during the day. In fact, bees travel so far away from their nests that even a human would probably struggle to find their way back. As an insect travels, a network of neurons registers every detail of their journey. These details include every direction taken, and the most subtle changes in speed. Different areas of a bee’s brain are wired together in order to allow it to travel to its nest without getting lost. The area of the brain associated with navigation is called the “central complex.” The neural process of navigation in this part of the brain if referred to as path integration. Bees and ants use path integration in this part of the brain, and surprisingly, so do humans. The cells in the central complex take every aspect of a bee’s journey into account when creating a memory that bee’s will later refer to in order to return home. The researchers involved with this study were able to discover these facts by placing a bee in a virtual reality chamber that simulated movement. While the bees were in the chamber electrodes were attached to a bee’s head. This allowed for researchers to literally view a bee’s neural processes.
Do you think that the results of this experiment would be different if the electrodes could record brain activity while bees were actually flying?