Orientation to polarized light in tethered flying honeybees [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Norihiro Kobayashi, Ryuichi Okada, and Midori Sakura

Behavioral responses of honeybees to a zenithal polarized light stimulus were observed using a tethered animal in a flight simulator. Flight direction of the bee was recorded by monitoring the horizontal movement of its abdomen, which was strongly anti-correlated with its torque. When the e-vector orientation of the polarized light was rotated clockwise or counterclockwise, the bee responded with periodic right-and-left abdominal movements; however, the bee did not show any clear periodic movement under the static e-vector or depolarized stimulus. The steering frequency of the bee was well coordinated with the e-vector rotation frequency of the stimulus, indicating that the flying bee oriented itself to a certain e-vector orientation, i.e., exhibited polarotaxis. The percentage of bees exhibiting clear polarotaxis was much smaller under the fast stimulus (3.6 ° s–1) compared with that of the slow stimulus (0.9 or 1.8 ° s–1). The bee did not demonstrate any polarotactic behavior after the dorsal rim region of its eyes, which mediates insect polarization vision in general, was bilaterally covered with black paint. Preferred e-vector orientations under the clockwise stimulus varied among individuals and distributed throughout -90 to 90°. Some bees showed similar preferred e-vector orientations for clockwise and counterclockwise stimuli whereas others did not. Our results strongly suggest that the flying honeybees utilize the e-vector information from the skylight to deduce their heading orientation for navigation.

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