Mental Maps and Honeybee Odometery

Posted 25 Jun 2008 at 15:44 UTC (updated 25 Jun 2008 at 16:24 UTC) by steve Share This

Keeping and consulting internal maps is a frequent method employed by robot builders to navigate complex environments. A Nature article describes the debate over whether Honeybees, which are much smarter than robots, keep internal maps. When a honeybee finds food, it communicates the distance and direction to the hive through a complex dance. 20 years ago, Fred Dyer and James Gould placed food in a very unlikely place (the middle of a lake on a boat) to see what would happen. A specially trained bee that knew the location of the food tried to tell the hive but the other bees didn't seem to believe it. The conclusion was that bees knew it was unlikely food could be found over water, suggesting they were evaluating the location's plausibility based on their own cognitive map of the area. A more recent attempt by Margaret Wray to duplicate the experiment has failed to get the same results but may have been flawed. Another researcher, Juergen Tautz, suggests there may be a simpler explanation for the bees refusal to fly over water, so the jury is still out. The Tautz paper is interesting in itself: Honeybee Odometry: Performance in varying Natural Terrain (PDF format).

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