Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Biological compasses and the coordinate frame of landmark memories in honeybees

Abstract

MANY hymenopterans use visual landmarks to guide the last stages of their return to a familiar place, moving so that the pattern of landmarks imaged on their retina matches the pattern stored on previous visits to that place1,2. What is the coordinate frame of these landmark memories, and how is it established? On the one hand, bees and flies learn complex visual shapes retinotopically3,4, and landmark memories probably share this characteristic. On the other hand, bees record the position of landmarks in compass coordinates. Thus, Lindauer5 showed that bees that had been trained to feed at the southernmost corner of a square table recognized the corner by its compass bearing from the table's centre. Taken together, these results suggest that these insects place retinotopically localized memories in Earth-based coordinates. We report here that honeybees accomplish this very simply: when learning about or searching for a goal, they face consistently in one compass direction, aided by the Earth's magnetic field. We suggest that the main benefit of inspecting the world from one favoured direction is to simplify the storage and retrieval of retinotopic memories.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. Wehner, R. in Handbook of Sensory Physiology vol. VII/6C (ed. Autrum, H. J.) 287–616 (Springer, Berlin, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Collett, T. S. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B337, 295–303 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Wehner, R. J. comp. Physiol. 77, 256–277 (1972).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Dill, M., Wolf, R. & Heisenberg, M. Nature 365, 751–753 (1993).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Lindauer, M. Cold Spring Harb. Symp. quant. Biol. 25, 371–377 (1960).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Batschelet, E. Circular Statistics in Biology (Academic, London, 1981).

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  7. Opfinger, E. Z. vergl. Physiol. 15, 431–487 (1931).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Couvillon, P. A. & Bitterman, M. E. J. Insect Behav. 5, 123–129 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Lehrer, M. J. comp. Physiol. A172, 549–563 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Tinbergen, N. Z. vergl. Physiol. 16, 305–335 (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Zeil, J. J. comp. Physiol. A172, 189–205 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Zeil, J. J. comp. Physiol. A172, 207–222 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. von Frisch, K. The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees (Belknap, Cambridge, 1967).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Wehner, R. & Rossel, S. in Experimental Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (eds Hölldobler, B. & Lindauer, M.) 11–53 (Sinauer, Sunderland, 1985).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Lindauer, M. & Martin, H. Z. vergl. Physiol. 60, 219–243 (1968).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Martin, H. & Lindauer, M. J. comp. Physiol. 122, 145–187 (1977).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gould, J. L. Kirschvink, J. L. & Deffeyes, K. S. Science 201, 1026–1028 (1978).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Walker, M. M. & Bitterman, M. E. J. exp. Biol. 145, 489–494 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Kirschvink, J. L. & Kobayashi-Kirschvink, A. Am. Zool. 31, suppl. (1), 169–185 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Schmitt, D. E. & Esch, H. E. Naturwissenschaften 80, 41–43 (1993).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Vollbehr, J. Zool. Jb. Physiol. 79, 33–69 (1975).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Collett, T., Baron, J. Biological compasses and the coordinate frame of landmark memories in honeybees. Nature 368, 137–140 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1038/368137a0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/368137a0

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing