Scent Sends Bees Down Memory Lane

January 29, 2004

Honeybees can be induced to return to a food source simply by being reminded of its smell, researchers report in a Brief Communication in the January 29, 2004 Nature. A particular scent can prompt bees to leave the nest and journey to a previously visited site associated with the same scent - even though food may no longer be present when they get there.

Bees use odour as well as visual cues to find their way to food sources that are often several kilometres away. If the scent of a previously visited source is blown into the hive, bees take off towards the site where they learned the smell, report Judith Reinhard and colleagues.

This process probably works independently of the ‘waggle dance’ used by bees to describe food locations to their nestmates, the authors add. Bees who arrive home smelling of a particular nectar may jog other bees’ memory of the scent, spurring them to make a similar trip.

Abstract © 2004 Nature

“Scent-triggered navigation in honeybees,” Judith Reinhard, Mandyam V. Srinivasan, Shaowu Zhang, Nature, January 29, 2004

Judith Reinhard, The Australian National University, Canberra