Science & Nature

Night Flights Are No Sweat for Tropical Bees

A feminine sweat bee, Megalopta genalis.  Credit: Ajay Narendra

New analysis makes use of evening imaginative and prescient to see how nocturnal bees navigate the darkish.

Karen Hopkin: This is Scientific American’s 60 -Second Science. I’m Karen Hopkin.

Hopkin: They say it’s darkest earlier than the daybreak. And that’s simply the best way that sweat bees prefer it. 

These tropical bugs, which dwell on an island in the midst of the Panama Canal, go to night-blooming flowers beneath cowl of darkness. And a brand new research reveals that the shapes made by gaps within the rainforest cover assist them discover their method house. 

The work seems within the journal Current Biology. [Sandra Chaib et al., Dorsal landmark navigation in a Neotropical nocturnal bee.]

Eric Warrant: Even although most bees are energetic in brilliant daylight, there are a couple of species which have grow to be nocturnal attributable to competitors and attributable to predators.

Hopkin: Eric Warrant, a professor of zoology on the University of Lund in Sweden.

Warrant: This is especially true of the hotter elements of the world, equivalent to…the steamy rainforests of Panama.

Hopkin: Warrant and his colleagues have been learning these evening flyers, referred to as Megalopta genalis, for greater than 20 years. 

Warrant: We have found that, like all bees, Megalopta is ready to be taught visible landmarks across the nest and presumably additionally alongside the foraging route.

A small bee whose movements are captured in the dark by infrared light flies into a hive.
The nocturnal bee Megalopta genalis lands on its nest stick at evening, filmed in Infrared mild with a excessive velocity digicam. Credit: Emily Baird

Hopkin: They use these landmarks to search out their method by the huge forest…and to acknowledge their nests. No straightforward feat, particularly contemplating the scale of those nocturnal navigators.

Warrant: Exactly how they handle to do that with such tiny eyes and with such a small mind continues to be to a big extent a thriller.

Hopkin: But it appeared that step one could be to easily search for. 

Warrant: There is one visible cue that’s fairly apparent on this in any other case profoundly dim atmosphere. And these are the brilliant patches of evening sky seen by gaps within the forest cover straight above.

Hopkin: But do the bees elevate their eyes whereas flying ahead at nighttime? To discover out, the researchers obtained to messin’ with the Megalopta. 

Sandra Chaib: We positioned the Megalopta nest, which is a hollowed-out stick, at a stand within the forest.  

Hopkin: Sandra Chaib, a University of Lund doctoral pupil who labored on the undertaking.

Chaib: On either side of the nest, we positioned two extra mock nest sticks which we had drilled holes in to resemble nests.

Hopkin: Above every nest, they positioned a particular visible landmark: a single black bar to mark the true nest and a sample of stripes in several orientations above the faux nests. 

Chaib: The bee was allowed to forage for a couple of nights to get acquainted with the realm.

Hopkin: And then one evening, when the bee was away, Chaib would shuffle the landmarks. And when the busy bee obtained again…

Chaib: … she instantly entered the nest beneath the landmark she had discovered.

Hopkin: Which was one of many fakes.

Chaib: Of course, after a couple of seconds, she realized her mistake and she or he got here again out once more. 

Hopkin: But after a brief flight to get reoriented…she would once more make the identical mistake. So it appears the bees had been sneaking in a final search for earlier than flying within the entrance door.

And the identical factor occurred when the researchers used circles of various sizes to kind extra canopy-like patterns to mark the doorway to the nests.

Chaib: She took a have a look at the sample from beneath, and flew straight into the mock nest.

Hopkin: The outcomes had been as clear as day. But, there at nighttime, they weren’t precisely straightforward to see.

Warrant: Even if we put a hand in entrance of our face it’s very tough to see it.

Chaib: Since it was completely darkish, I used evening goggles to observe the nest.

Hopkin: And an infrared digicam to movie the bees’ comings and goings…after sundown and earlier than daybreak. 

Chaib: It’s not probably the most nice factor, getting up in the midst of the evening  to arrange the cameras. 

[Sounds of the rainforest

Chaib: On the opposite hand, the rainforest is probably the most wonderful place at the moment. Many animals are probably the most energetic right now.

Hopkin: Even the common-or-garden sweat bees…which can showcase their outstanding abilities for anybody who’s ready to observe. 

For Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I’m Karen Hopkin. 


  • Bee


    Karen Hopkin is a contract science author in Somerville, Mass. She holds a doctorate in biochemistry and is a contributor to Scientific American‘s 60-Second Science podcasts.

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