Honey bees possess a polarity-sensitive magnetoreceptor

Abstract

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, exploit the geomagnetic field for orientation during foraging and for alignment of their combs within hives. We tested the hypothesis that honey bees sense the polarity of magnetic fields. We created an engineered magnetic anomaly in which the magnetic field generally either converged toward a sugar reward in a watch glass, or away from it. After bees in behavioral field studies had learned to associate this anomaly with a sugar water reward, we subjected them to two experiments performed in random order. In both experiments, we presented bees with two identical sugar water rewards, one of which was randomly marked by a magnetic field anomaly. During the control experiment, the polarity of the magnetic field anomaly was maintained the same as it was during the training session. During the treatment experiment, it was reversed. We predicted that bees would not respond to the altered anomaly if they were sensitive to the polarity of the magnetic field. Our findings that bees continued to respond to the magnetic anomaly when its polarity was in its unaltered state, but did not respond to it when its polarity was reversed, support the hypothesis that honey bees possess a polarity-sensitive magnetoreceptor.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Brian Andrade for assistance in the construction of the two-choice table; the owners of the Spray Creek ranch and the Texas Creek ranch for permitting experimentation on their land; Hannah Crisp for assisting in data collection; Tristan Banwell for various hands-on work and help; Stephen DeMuth and Stephen Takács for graphical illustrations; Gitta Lambinet and Fritz Lambinet for supporting VL’s education and providing financial assistance; and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments. The research was supported by Graduate Fellowships from Simon Fraser University to VL, NSERC Discovery Grants to MEH and GG, and by an NSERC—Industrial Research Chair to GG, with Scotts Canada Ltd. as the industrial sponsor.

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Correspondence to Michael E. Hayden or Gerhard Gries.

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Lambinet, V., Hayden, M.E., Reid, C. et al. Honey bees possess a polarity-sensitive magnetoreceptor. J Comp Physiol A 203, 1029–1036 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-017-1214-4

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Keywords

  • Honey bees
  • Apis mellifera
  • Magnetoreception
  • Inclination compass
  • Polarity compass