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Smell signals the route to flowers

Michael Hrncir

Uruçu bee: smell carried by the wind leads to nectarMichael Hrncir

Bees that have never left the hive can learn to find plants that are rich in nectar and pollen just by the smell carried by the wind or brought by other bees to the hive. This is what people thought happened, but up until now, it had not been demonstrated. Now the Brazilian zoologist Ana Carolina Roselino, from São Paulo State University (Unesp), Rio Claro campus, and Austrian Michael Hrncir, from the Federal Rural University of the Semi-Arid Region, in the State of Rio Grande do Norte, have proved this hypothesis in a test with uruçus (Melipona scutellaris), stingless bees native to the Atlantic Rainforest. First, they exposed a group of bees to an airflow containing geraniol and another one to air with linalool. Afterwards they placed the bees in an acrylic box with two pots of sugared water: one with geraniol aroma and the other with linalool aroma. Roughly 70% of the bees exposed to geraniol fed from the container with this compound. A similar percentage of the other group preferred the pot with linalool. Bees that were unaccustomed to the aromas chose their food at random (Animal Behavior, March 2012).