Also among bees there are left-handers

Some honey bees have a clear preference for one side

Right or left around? On their way from flowering to flowering, some bees prefer a very specific side. © Pexels / pixabay
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Left or right handed? Many bees have a pronounced preference for the left or the right side. In experiments, some specimens fly almost exclusively on the right, others on the left. However, this handedness is far less one-sidedly distributed among them than with us. While humans are predominantly right-handed, the preference for one side in the insects seems more evenly distributed and more individual. This could make their flight in the swarm more efficient.

Man is far from the only creature that prefers to use a hand, an eye or a foot for certain actions. On the contrary, the phenomenon of handedness stretches across the animal kingdom - but in very different ways. While the right-handed people are clearly in the majority with us humans, kangaroos prefer for the most part the left side.

And our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, are also predominantly right-handed. However, the proportion of left-handers is one-third, for us it is only ten to fifteen percent. For other animals, however, the preference for one side is almost evenly distributed. But what about insects like the honeybee? Are there any left- and right-handed people among the pollen collectors?

Flying right-handed

This question has now been addressed to Marielle Ong from the University of Queensland in Brisbane and her colleagues. For their experiments, they barred bees from finding their way through a barrier with two openings of the same size - one on the left and one on the right. Which opening would the insects choose to overcome the obstacle?

The evaluation of the flight routes showed: Overall, there was no clear preference for a page within the bee population. Because the right opening was chosen in the test as often as the left. At the individual level, however, there were differences: While around 55 percent of the insects did not favor a specific side, the others showed a pronounced handedness. Half of these 45 percent preferred to turn right, the other half almost exclusively left. display

Handedness complicates decision

In a second step, the scientists changed the size of the openings: A through-hole was now smaller and thus more difficult to fly through. Faced with these options, the bees now on average often chose the safer and faster version. The tendency for the large opening became all the more pronounced the more clearly the size of the two openings differed.

The bees with a pronounced handiness also followed this pattern but the choice for the faster passage variant sometimes seemed to be more difficult for them than their non-dog-like counterparts. If the larger opening did not meet their instinctively preferred side, they needed more time to decide and finally fly through the hole. For the researchers, this is further evidence of the pronounced fertility of some honey bees.

Benefits of navigating?

"Unlike humans, who are predominantly right-handed, bees vary from individual to individual in bees, " says Ong's colleague Mandyam Srinivasan. These individual preferences could increase flight efficiency in the swarm as bees navigate through environments with many obstacles, the team believes.

"Insects are constantly faced with the challenge of choosing efficient, safe, and collision-free routes, such as through dense foliage, " explains Srinivasan. The researchers had previously shown that a uniform handling while navigating can help. They proved that the animals rarely collide in flight, because they always dodge to the right.

For large swarms of insects, which have to fly fast through heavily jagged landscapes, a different degree of handiness seems to be an advantage. Because it avoids "traffic jams". "In the future, this finding may be used as a strategy to control drone fleets through dense built-up areas, " concludes Srinivasan. (Plos One, 2017; doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0184343)

(University of Queensland, 06.11.2017 - DAL)