Flight Guidance Mechanisms of Honey Bee Swarms: How They Get Where They Are Going

Bee Culture Magazine    By Tom Seeley and Ann Chilcott    May 15, 2015

Kirk Visscher, left and Tom Seeley in 2006, watching a test swarm move into a bait hive on appledore Island, in the State of Maine. (photo by Peter EssickAnyone who observes a swarm of bees launch into flight and move off to its new home is presented with a mind-boggling puzzle: how does this school-bus sized cloud of some 10,000 insects manage to fly straight to its new dwelling place? Its flight path may extend for several miles and traverse fields and forest, hilltops and valleys, and even swamps and lakes. What is most amazing is the precision of the flight guidance, for the swarm is able to steer itself to one special point in the landscape, e.g. a specific knothole in one particular tree in a certain corner of a forest. And as the swarm closes in on its destination, it gradually reduces its flight speed so that it stops precisely at the “front door” of its new home. The mystery of how the thousands of bees in a swarm accomplish this magnificent feat of precisely oriented group flight has been carefully probed in recent years using sophisticated radar tracking, video recording, and image processing technologies. In this article, we will review the main findings of these investigations.

First, let’s define the problem a bit more precisely...

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