Bees collect honey with a “cognitive map” to navigate

As early as 1948, psychologist Edward Tolman observed the way mice moved through the maze, found that mice could learn how to judge paths, and proposed the concept of “cognitive maps”. Then, through the development of ethology, neurophysiology and optogenetics, it was finally determined that higher vertebrates do use “cognitive maps” to navigate during navigation. But for the past four decades, some scientists have questioned and debated whether invertebrates use “cognitive maps” to navigate the process.

Recently, Wang Zhengwei, associate researcher of the Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, collaborated with the team of Randolf Menzel, a professor at the Free University of Berlin in Germany, and Charles Gallistel, a professor at Rutgers University in the United States, to find new evidence that invertebrates have a “cognitive map” from the dance communication mechanism of bee colonies. The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1973, Nobel laureate Carl von Frisch discovered that bees use dance to recruit more companions to go out in search of new food sources or nests. Therefore, it is also clarified that the dancing bee is the transmitter of food source information and the following bee is the receiver of learning to obtain food source information around the dance. Dance can convey direction and distance information.

“However, after learning the dancing bees, is the information transmitted by the following bees just to obtain direction and distance information to guide them out of the nest to find the indicated food source?”

With this question, Wang Zhengwei and his collaborators marked the following bees, took them to different release points, and then used radar tracking to extract and analyze the trajectory of the following bees. They found that without experience in visiting food sources, the following bees did not navigate to the direction and distance indicated by the dance bees by obtaining the information transmitted by the dancing bees, but obtained search flight and navigation results pointing to the real location of the food source.

Therefore, we believe that while extracting direction and distance information from the “dance language”, the following bee can superimpose the above information with the location information of the surrounding spatial environment of the hive to derive the true location of the food source and indicate the navigation process. Wang Zhengwei said that this study reflects that invertebrates have a strong cognitive level, adding new evidence to prove that invertebrates have a ‘cognitive map’. (Source: Hu Minqi, China Science News)

Related paper information:

Complete radar tracking of bees back to the colony. Photo courtesy of interviewee

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