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Published June 1, 1980 | Published
Journal Article Open

Orientation of Demagnetized Bees


The orientation of honey bee dances is affected by the earth's magnetic field. Honey bees possess localized, well-oriented, stable and superparamagnetic domains of magnetite. Four lines of evidence suggest that the superparamagnetic domains of bees are more likely to be involved in magnetic field detectors than the stable domains. (1) Although the stable domains vary widely in size and number between bees, approximately 2×10^8 superparamagnetic domains are found reliably in all bees, and are restricted to there latively narrow size range of 300–350 Å. This suggests that the superparamagnetic domains are more likely to have a biological function. (2) Behavioural observations of dances in null fields are difficult to reconcile with astable-domain detector but are clearly predicted by many superparamagnetic detector models. (3) When honey bees are demagnetized, their ability to orient to the earth's field is unaffected. This suggests that the detector either utilizes the super paramagnetic domains or depends on aligned anisotropic stable domains processed without regard to magneticpolarity. (4) Bees that have only superparamagnetic domains are able nevertheless to orient to the earth's magnetic field, a phenomenon which indicates that permanent domains may not be required for detection.

Additional Information

© 1980 by Company of Biologists. Received 21 September 1979. We thank C. Bushnell of the PPL coil shop for designing the coil, L. Martin of the MBL electronic shop for helping in the final stages of tuning the coil, C. Denham and A. Chave of Woods Hole Oceanographic for helping us with the cryogenic magnetometer measurements, R. Dahl, E. Tyner, C. G. Gould and K. Schenck for help in setting up and running the experiments, C. G. Gould for help with the manuscript, and W. G. Quinn for prodding us to do the experiments in the first place. This research was supported by NSF grant BSN 76-01653 to J. L. G.

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