Going with the flow: a brief history of the study of the honeybee's navigational 'odometer'

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2014 Jun;200(6):563-73. doi: 10.1007/s00359-014-0902-6. Epub 2014 Apr 17.


Honeybees navigate to a food source using a sky-based compass to determine their travel direction, and an odometer to register how far they have travelled. The past 20 years have seen a renewed interest in understanding the nature of the odometer. Early work, pioneered by von Frisch and colleagues, hypothesized that travel distance is measured in terms of the energy that is consumed during the journey. More recent studies suggest that visual cues play a role as well. Specifically, bees appear to gauge travel distance by sensing the extent to which the image of the environment moves in the eye during the journey from the hive to the food source. Most of the evidence indicates that travel distance is measured during the outbound journey. Accumulation of odometric errors is restricted by resetting the odometer every time a prominent landmark is passed. When making detours around large obstacles, the odometer registers the total distance of the path that is flown to the destination, and not the "bee-line" distance. Finally, recent studies are revealing that bees can perform odometry in three dimensions.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Distance Perception / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Food
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Odorants*
  • Research / history*
  • Spatial Navigation / physiology*