Scientists in Australia have discovered that individual bees have a preferred “left-handed or right-handed” flying direction.
In what is believed to be a world first, the scientists found that some honey bees demonstrated an individual steering bias when presented with a barrier that could only be crossed by flying through one of two gaps.
About 45 per cent of the bees tended to steer through one side rather than the other and 55 per cent showed no sign of a bias.
The researchers, from the University of Queensland, found that – unlike humans, who are mostly right-handed – bees that have a preference for one side over the other are evenly spread between right and left.
“When the apertures were equally wide, both apertures were chosen with equal frequency and about 55 per cent of the bees displayed no side bias in their choices,” said Prof Mandyam Srinivasan.
“Some bees display a strong left bias, others a strong right bias, and yet others have a weak or zero bias.”
The researchers also conducted tests in which the gaps in the barrier were set at different widths. This prompted the bees to steer towards the wider gap – but those bees with a left- or right-side preference took longer to make their decision if their instinctive bias was toward the side with the narrower opening.
“We believe these individual biases help to improve the flight efficiency of a swarm of bees through densely cluttered environments,” said Srinivasan. “Flying insects constantly face the challenge of choosing efficient, safe and collision-free routes while navigating through dense foliage.”
The research has been published in the journal Plos One. “To our knowledge, our study is the first to uncover the existence of individually distinct biases in honeybees,” the study says.
Previous studies have found that some species of birds have steering preferences – a trait that may assist them to collectively avoid crashing while flying in flocks.