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Study: Bees rely on mental maps for navigation, not just sun-compass readings

Image: Pixabay / Creative Commons

Image: Pixabay / Creative Commons

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Friday, June 6, 2014, 12:57 PM - Apparently it's really hard for bees to get hopelessly lost, even when scientists are trying super hard to make it happen.

And the scientists who released this paper on bee navigation were REALLY trying. 

While mammals can make their way through the landscape by using maps they build in their own minds based on landmarks, insects like bees or ants are thought to navigate mostly by taking internal compass readings based on the sun.

The scientists in the study, wanting to test this, captured several bees in the wild, put them under anesthesia, transported them far from their point of capture, then released them when they came to.

The results suggest bees may also have a cognitive map they use for navigation.

"Experimentally captured and displaced bees often depart from the release site in the compass direction they were bent on before their capture, even though this no longer heads them toward their goal," the abstract reads. "When they discover their error, however, the bees set off more or less directly toward their goal."

The researchers hypothesize that the bees have a series of snapshots in their heads, with a sun-compass reading memorized for each one, that helps them make their way home.

"The surprise comes for many people that such a tiny little brain is able to form such a rich memory described as a cognitive map," one of the co-authors, Randolf Menzel, told Nature.com.

RELATED VIDEO: Not science, but CPR, saved the squirrel in the video below from drowning. You have to see it.

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