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Bees locate their queen by performing cascade of 'scenting' events: Study

ANI | March 24, 2021 05:19 AM
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Washington DC [US], March 24 (ANI): In a recent study, researchers have found that the bees collectively located their queen via olfactory communication, in which they release pheromones and direct the pheromones toward other bees by fanning their wings.

According to the study, the pheromones travel the distance between individual bees, and thereby create an olfactory map over large distances that led to the queen.

This research was conducted by combining machine learning with observations of more than 6,600 apiary European honey bees (Apis mellifera L). The findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The study shows that bees locate their queen by performing a cascade of "scenting" events, where individual bees direct their pheromone signals by fanning their wings. The bees create a dynamic spatiotemporal network that recruits new broadcasting bees over time, as the pheromones travel a distance that is orders of magnitude the length of an individual.

The scientist developed high-throughput machine learning tools to identify the locations and timings of scenting events, and demonstrate that these events integrate into a global "map" that leads to the queen.

"We use these results to build an agent-based model that illustrates the advantage of the directional signaling in amplifying the pheromones, thus leading to an effective search and aggregation process," the researchers said.

"We find that bees collectively create a scenting-mediated communication network by arranging in a specific spatial distribution where there is a characteristic distance between individuals and directional signaling away from the queen," they added.

The study highlights an example of extended classical stigmergy: Rather than depositing static information in the environment, individual bees locally sense and globally manipulate the physical fields of chemical concentration and airflow.

Animals routinely navigate unpredictable and unknown environments in order to survive and reproduce. One of the prevalent communication strategies in nature is conducted via volatile signal communication, for example, pheromones.

As the range and noise tolerance of information exchange is limited by the spatiotemporal decay of these signals, animals find creative solutions to overcome this problem by leveraging the diffusivity, decay, and interference with information from other individuals.

For olfactory communication, honeybees use their antennae to recognise and respond to specific odors. Recent studies have revealed the bees' distinct electrophysiological responses to different chemicals with quantifiable preferences.

Olfactory communication with pheromones is crucial for many coordinated processes inside a honeybee colony, such as caste recognition, regulating foraging activities, and alarm broadcasting.

Studies have shown that the queen mandibular pheromone regulates gene expression in the brains of workers, inducing changes in downstream behaviors, such as nursing and foraging. Among worker bees, adult foragers produce ethyl oleate, a chemical inhibitory factor, plays a role in delaying foraging in younger workers. (ANI)

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