We present a comparison of the sugar-elicited search behavior in Drosophila melanogaster and Apis mellifera. In both species, intake of sugar-water elicits a complex of searching responses. The most obvious response was an increase in turning frequency. However, we also found that flies and honey bees returned to the location of the sugar drop. They even returned to the food location when we prevented them from using visual and chemosensory cues. Analyses of the recorded trajectories indicated that flies and bees use two mechanisms, a locomotor pattern involving an increased turning frequency and path integration to increase the probability to stay close or even return to the sugar drop location. However, evidence for the use of path integration in honey bees was less clear. In general, walking trajectories of honey bees showed a higher degree of curvature and were more spacious; two characters which likely masked evidence for the use of path integration in our experiments. Visual cues, i.e., a black dot, presented underneath the sugar drop made flies and honey bees stay closer to the starting point of the search. In honey bees, vertical black columns close to the sugar drop increased the probability to visit similar cues in the vicinity. An additional one trial learning experiment suggested that the intake of sugar-water likely has the potential to initiate an associative learning process. Together, our experiments indicate that the sugar-elicited local search is more complex than previously assumed. Most importantly, this local search behavior appeared to exhibit major behavioral capabilities of large-scale navigation. Thus, we propose that sugar-elicited search behavior has the potential to become a fruitful behavioral paradigm to identify neural and molecular mechanisms involved in general mechanisms of navigation.
Keywords: Apis mellifera; Drosophila melanogaster; dance communication; food reward; landmark learning; path integration; search behavior.