1. ITV Report

Bee boffins highlight insect brain power

Anything but bumbling: Bee creates its own 'flight plans' Photo: Jens Meyer/AP

Scientists from Hertfordshire have carried out research which highlights the brain power of the humble bumblebee.

Boffins from Rothamsted Research in Harpenden and the University of London has illustrated how bees form flight plans to discover the most efficient routes between food sources.

Let loose to find their way among five artificial flowers in a one kilometre-wide field, the bees quickly learned which routes were the most efficient.

In a surprisingly short time they drew up "flight plans" that allowed them to navigate around the flowers while using as little energy as possible.

Tiny radar transponders mounted on the bees' backs were used to plot where the insects were flying.

The artificial flowers were fitted with motion-triggered webcams, as well as landing platforms containing a drop of sugar solution to simulate nectar.

To prompt the bumblebees to visit all five flowers, each sucrose drop was only big enough to fill one fifth of a bee's crop.

The flowers, arranged in a pentagon, were also far enough apart to be out of each other from a bee perspective.

Professor Chris Rawlings, another member of the team from Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, said: "This is an exciting result because it shows that seemingly complex behaviours can be described by relatively simple rules which can be described mathematically.

"This means we can now use mathematics to inform us when bee behaviour might be affected by their environment and to assess, for example, the impact of changes in the landscape."