Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists Map The Flight Of The Bumblebee

Date:
July 28, 2006
Source:
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Summary:
Bumblebees have an incredible homing instinct that allows them to find their way home from up to eight miles away, according to the early results of research that aims to aid efforts to save the British bumblebee. Bumblebees are being dropped off at famous landmarks in North East England by the Newcastle University researchers, who observe if they can find their way back to a nest on campus and plot their return using a computer program.

Bumblebees have an incredible homing instinct that allows them to find their way home from up to eight miles away, according to the early results of research that aims to aid efforts to save the British bumblebee.

Bumblebees are being dropped off at famous landmarks in North East England by the Newcastle University researchers, who then observe if they can find their way back to a nest on campus.

Early results show the bees, which are tagged with tiny identification numbers in the laboratory, have flown back from the Metro Centre and the Angel of the North (three miles away, or 5 kilometres) and the Tyne Bridge and Manors Metro station (one mile, or 1.5k).

However, the record flight was from a garden centre in Heddon on the Wall in the Tyne Valley in the county of Northumberland - some eight miles or 13km from their nest.

The researchers have found it is only the worker bees which make their way back - they suspect the queen bees find shelter elsewhere. The results are surprising because scientific literature says the bumblebee they are studying - a common species called Bombus terrestris - travels only 5km for its food.

The project aims to find out how far the bees can travel to get their food and if certain environments are trickier to navigate than others. This knowledge will ultimately help with conservation strategies that may involve adapting landscapes to create optimum habitats for bees.

There are 25 species of British bumblebee but their numbers have been declining in the last 50 years due to dramatic changes in the landscape caused by intense farming.

Bees are a crucial part of wildlife communities - known as ecosystems - because they pollinate plants in their search for their food, nectar and pollen from flowers. Worldwide, up to 40 per cent of the world's food production is due to pollination by wild bees, which include the bumblebee.

Steph O'Connor, who has just graduated from Newcastle University with a Wildlife Biology degree, is working on the project with insect specialists Dr Mark O'Neill and Dr Gordon Port, who is also a senior lecturer with the University's Division of Biology.

Steph, who hopes to continue her studies for a research degree, has spent several weeks attracting the attention of passers-by as she hovers near the hive - in a garden wall on campus - catching the bees in a large net.

She said: "The current scientific literature shows that bees normally forage within 5km, and this is probably correct. However, the findings of our research are intriguing, because it shows the bees can navigate their way home from further away than this."

Scientists are unsure how bumblebees navigate. Vision is thought to be most Important, helping them to fly in straight lines and to use landmarks as clues. At very close range (no more than a metre or two) they use odour to find their way around.

Co-researcher, Dr Mark O'Neill, is plotting the bees' journeys using a computer programme, allowing him to build up a pattern of flight paths from different places. He said: "We are trying to find out more about how bees forage, or look for their food. We're particularly interested to see if they find certain environments easier to navigate.

"For example, do the bees find it easier to get home from the built-up urban environment that the Metro Centre occupies - or are they more comfortable navigating the green fields out in the Tyne Valley? All this is useful information for conservationists who are formulating strategies to prevent the bumblebee from decline."

The project, which is funded by Newcastle University, is in its early stages but future hopes are to monitor variables such as the weather and its effect on the bees' 'homing' capabilities.

Bumblebee fact file:

There are 25 species of bumblebee in the UK

Bumblebees are social bees and live in colonies. Each colony is founded in spring by a queen, who mated during the previous summer and hibernated during the winter. Her first offspring are sterile females, or workers, but eventually she produces a generation that includes new queens or males.

Three species of bumblebee have become extinct in the UK in the last 30 years alone.

You can encourage bumblebees into your garden by planting wild plants, such as honeysuckle, comfrey, knapweed, red clover and flowering currant.

The length of a bumblee's tongue influences the choice of flower species it feeds on - some long-tongued bumblebees are close to extinction in the UK (Bombus terrestris, the focus of this study, is short-tongued).

Bumblebees leave chemical 'post-it' notes on flowers they have just visited to tell others they have taken all the nectar.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Newcastle upon Tyne. "Scientists Map The Flight Of The Bumblebee." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 July 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060728162546.htm>.
University of Newcastle upon Tyne. (2006, July 28). Scientists Map The Flight Of The Bumblebee. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060728162546.htm
University of Newcastle upon Tyne. "Scientists Map The Flight Of The Bumblebee." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060728162546.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) The drop in price of soy on the international market is a cause for concern in Argentina, as soybean exports are a major source of income for Latin America's third largest economy. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) A mama bear and her two cubs climb trees, wrestle and take naps in the backyard of a Monrovia, California home. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) Once upon a time, farming was a blissfully low-tech business on Colombia's northern plains. Duration: 02:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins