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10-05-2010, 02:49 AM
Training Flights for Bees

By C. CLAIBORNE RAY (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/claiborne_ray/index.html?inline=nyt-per)

Q. How are bees (http://www.nytimes.com/info/bees/?inline=nyt-classifier) able to find their way back to the hive after foraging for pollen?
A. Research by Karl von Frisch, which won him a Nobel prize (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/science/topics/nobel_prizes/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier) in 1973, delineated the well-known “waggle dance” performed by the returning honeybee to help communicate the location and distance of a pollen trove to other members of the hive; it is also thought that acquired scents help direct other bees back to the same hunting grounds (http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/adrian-wenner/experiments-on-directing-bee-flight-by-odors/).
But other researchers have described how worker bees make training flights to learn to navigate from hive to pollen and back in the first place.
“These flights are a prerequisite for successful homing,” researchers wrote in a letter (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v403/n6769/abs/403537a0.html) to the journal Nature published in 2000. In the correspondence, scientists from Illinois and England discussed the use of radar to track the training flights, which prepare the bees to become foragers around three weeks of age. The flights have the same duration, but each successive flight is faster and takes the bees farther.
A flight typically focuses on a narrow swath of the surrounding area, so that the bees get a chance to see the hive and the landscape from different viewpoints, the researchers wrote.
Any changes in the flight path are related to the number of previous flights taken, not to the bees’ chronological age, the scientists found, “suggesting a learning process adapted to changes in weather conditions, flower availability and the needs of bee colonies.”
C. CLAIBORNE RAY
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