Target-directed Orientation in Displaced Honeybees


Institut für Neurobiologie, Königin-Luise-Str. 28–30, D-14195 Berlin, Germany.


Under sunny weather conditions, displaced honeybees (Apis mellifera) usually fly into the celestial compass direction and thus may be misled from their goal, or they are disorientated. Under cloudy conditions, they may determine the celestial compass direction from prominent landmarks. They may also fly directly toward their goal from a release site. In two experiments, we investigated the orientation of displaced bees when a landmark (target) was close to the goal under different weather conditions. It is shown that in sunny conditions, the celestial compass will override target orientation under most conditions. Under 100% cloud cover, the celestial compass direction retrieved from landmarks modulates target-orientated behaviour but is not by itself a primary orientation factor. The bees will fly toward a previously encountered landmark that signals the target, and in case of several similar landmarks which are visible to the bees, they will choose the one in the direction nearest the celestial compass direction. The results indicate that honeybee orientation is the result of a set of context-specific interdependent orientation mechanisms.