Making Beelines

Guided by the light
sweet sentinels
fall into line,
senses full of
and sun
and sky.
Exploratory flights
with wings a-flutter
to trace loops
of black and gold
against the fading sights
of strange terrain.
Driven by memory,
these dancing drones
traverse the hive highway
of channels
and streams;
linear landscapes
that always seem to point
to home.

A honeybee flying above a flower (Image Credit: Devcore, via Wikimedia Commons).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that bees follow linear landmarks to find their way home.

For many years, scientists have studied honeybees and found that they are very skilled navigators. They use many different ways to find their way around, including their sense of smell, the sun, patterns in the sky’s light, tall objects they can see from far away, and even possibly the Earth’s magnetic field. They are also really smart and have excellent memories, which helps them learn and figure out new things. Similarly, in the past, pilots used to fly planes without modern technology like GPS or radio beacons. Instead, they would look for roads and train tracks to follow, which helped them stay on course and find their way to their destination. These are long, straight lines on the ground that are easy to see from the air and can guide the pilots in the right direction.

In this new study, scientists discovered that honeybees navigate their way back home by using straight lines on the ground, just like how pilots used to do it. The researchers caught 50 honeybees who were experienced in finding food and put a small device on their back that could track them. They then released the bees in a new area that they had never been to before. The only thing the bees could use to help them find their way home were two parallel irrigation channels that ran in a certain direction. Normally, when bees are in a new area, they fly around in circles to explore the area and find their way. But the researchers were able to use the small devices on the bees to track their exact flight patterns for up to three hours. The results showed that the bees were using the irrigation channels as a way to find their way home, just like how they would use roads or train tracks. This study tells us that honeybees are very smart and can use multiple things in their environment to help them navigate. It also shows us that they have a good memory and can remember important landmarks to help them find their way home.

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