Left or Right? Like People, Honeybees Have Directional Bias, Researchers Say

Bees, like people, can have left or right biases, researchers say—and studying how it affects their flight patterns could help us in piloting large fleets of drones.

When flying through obstacles, individual honeybees display distinct bias in which direction they steer, according to researchers from the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute, a statement said.

As bees approach an obstacle, they are able to swiftly judge the widths of different gaps within it. When two gaps were equally wide, just over half of the bees (55 percent) did not display any bias.

But the remaining 45 percent of the bees were split exactly in two: half of them preferred the right, and half the left. That means, proportionally, the right-left bias in bees looks very different than that in humans.

“Unlike humans, who are mostly right-handed, some bees display a strong left bias, others a strong right bias, and yet others a weak or zero bias,” the University of Queensland’s Mandyam (Srini) Srinivasan said.

Meanwhile, when the two gaps in an obstacle were of differing widths, bees tended to prefer the wider opening. And the bigger the difference between the gaps, the more strongly that preference was displayed.

“We believe these individual biases help to improve the flight efficiency of a swarm of bees through densely cluttered environments,” Srinivasan said. “Flying insects constantly face the challenge of choosing efficient, safe and collision-free routes while navigating through dense foliage. This finding could potentially be used as strategy for steering a fleet of drone aircraft.” 

The research follows good news for populations of honeybees in the U.S. In August, a Department of Agriculture report found that a likely 2.89 million bee colonies existed throughout the U.S., up by 3 percent compared to April 2016.

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