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Scientists map the flight of the bumblebee

Bumblebees have an incredible homing instinct that allows them to find their way home from up to eight miles away, according to the early results of research that aims to aid efforts to save the British bumblebee.

Bumblebees are being dropped off at famous landmarks in North East England by the Newcastle University researchers, who then observe if they can find their way back to a nest on campus.

Early results show the bees, which are tagged with tiny identification numbers in the laboratory, have flown back from the Metro Centre and the Angel of the North (three miles away, or 5 kilometres) and the Tyne Bridge and Manors Metro station (one mile, or 1.5k).

However, the record flight was from a garden centre in Heddon on the Wall in the Tyne Valley in the county of Northumberland - some eight miles or 13km from their nest.

The researchers have found it is only the worker bees which make their way back - they suspect the queen bees find shelter elsewhere. The results are surprising because scientific literature says the bumblebee they are studying - a common species called Bombus terrestris - travels only 5km for its food.

The project aims to find out how far the bees can travel to get their food and if certain environments are trickier to navigate than others. This knowledge will ultimately help with conservation strategies that may involve adapting landscapes to create optimum habitats for bees.

There are 25 species of British bumblebee but their numbers have been declining in the last 50 years due to dramatic changes in the landscape caused by intense farming.

Bees are a crucial part of wildlife communities - known as ecosystems - because they pollinate plants in their search for their food, nectar and pollen from flowers. Worldwide, up to 40 per cent of the world's food production is due to pollination by wild bees, which include the bumblebee.

Steph O'Connor, who has
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Contact: Claire Jordan
press.office@ncl.ac.uk
1-912-227-850
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
25-Jul-2006


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