Degen J, Kirbach A, Reiter L, Lehmann K, Storm M, Koblofsky M, Winter S, Georgieva PB, Chamkhi H, Greggers U and Menzel R (2015)

Exploratory behaviour of honeybees during orientation flights.

News vom 02.02.2015


exploration; foraging flight; harmonic radar; honeybee; learning; orientation flight; scout bee



  • Bees perform short- and long-range orientation flights.
  • Bees visit different parts of the landscape during consecutive orientation flights.
  • Bees do not explore all compass directions before they start foraging.
  • Orientation flights can be guided by extended parallel landscape structures.

Honeybees, Apis mellifera, perform exploratory orientation flights before they start foraging in order to become familiar with the terrain. To reveal the structure of consecutive orientation flights and hence gain insight into exploratory behaviour, we monitored individual bees from their first flight onwards using harmonic radar technology for flight tracking. We categorized flights into short- and long-range orientation flights. (1) Short-range flights are likely to be related to learning the specific features of the hive's immediate surroundings, and were performed significantly more frequently under unfavourable weather conditions. (2) The duration of long-range orientation flights declined from the first to the fourth flight because the bees spent less time inspecting the immediate surroundings of the hive. (3) Parts of single orientation flights were guided by extended parallel landscape structures on the ground. (4) During consecutive orientation flights bees explored novel sectors of the terrain. (5) Foraging flights performed after orientation flights covered greater distances and may involve a sector of the terrain not explored before, indicating that the acquired visual information plus path integration is sufficient for successful homing even from unfamiliar areas. (6) Exploration may be mixed with foraging flights after the initial orientation flights, sometimes leading to extremely long and elaborate flights. The latter are interpreted as being performed by scout bees. The results are interpreted within the frame of the psychology of exploratory behaviour in animals.

Animal Behaviour, 102: 45-57. Link

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