While Some Bees Are Workers, Others Are Born To Bee Free – Tracking Study Shows

‘Bee calling hive, come in hive. We got some good stuff here…’ Joseph Woodgate, Author provided
Kristy Hamilton 08 Aug 2016, 22:29

It’s a bee’s life

Observing how the flight of each bee changed throughout her life offers an insight into how bees find food, and how they balance the desire to explore and find new sources of nectar with the need to provide food for the nest.

All our bees began their lives making long, convoluted flights, looping unpredictably around the landscape. They thoroughly surveyed their local area, stopping frequently to sample the flowers available.

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Initial exploratory flights of the four bees. Colours represent time in flight, moving from green through yellow to red. Grey dashed lines show estimated routes. Woodgate/Makinson/Lim/Reynolds/Chittka

However, after only a few such flights most abruptly changed their behaviour, replacing the long exploratory loops with direct, efficient flights to a single flower source they had learned. Most of the rest of their lives was spent diligently exploiting flowers from the locations they had learned.

From recording the bees’ movements we can tell that nearly all discovered their favourite flower patches within their first few flights. One bee abruptly switched her flight path, heading directly toward a place she had discovered on her first ever flight nine days earlier. Until then, she’d never returned, which suggests she was able to remember it all that time.

Bee original

So it seems that bees change their behaviour, from exploration to exploitation, over the course of their lives. Which is not to say that all bees are identical little automata, though. What really struck us about our bees was how different they were from each other.

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