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Painstaking trial and error used by bumble bees to find flowers


A new study shows that bumble bees use old-fashioned trial and error to find flowers.


Sergei Supinsky

Bumble bees use trial and error to make their way to flowers said a new study.

Researchers at Queen Mary’s University and Royal Holloway University in London showed that the bees use the old-fashioned method instead of an internal GPS to find their way to and from pollen sources.

To conduct the study, the research team attached small radars to dozens of bees that tracked their locations.

They trained bees to feed on artificial flowers, said Scientific American, that were outfitted with a sugary center and spaced about 160 feet apart - farther than bees can see.

Their nest was positioned near the flowers.

To make sure everything went smoothly, the experiment was run in October to make sure the bees did not fly off to other natural flowers in the area.

In tracking the bees, the team found that the insects were quick learners, trying out different routes between the plants and home.

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It only took the bees a few minutes or hours to find the most efficient route, reported Wired.

Indeed, one bee traveled nearly 6,500 feet on its first foraging journey.

Yet, by the final trip, the bumble bee had reduced that distance to 1500 feet.

Finding the most efficient route between food and home is a characteristic inherent in many animals, said the Sydney Morning Herald.

"[It's] analogous to the well-known travelling salesman problem – finding the shortest route to visit a set of locations once and return to the origin," the study author, Lars Chittka said, according to the newspaper.

The study was published in the journal PloS Biology.