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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad


Although landing is a crucial part of insect flight, it has attracted relatively little study. Here, we investigate, for the first time, the final moments of a honeybee's (Apis mellifera) landing manoeuvre. Using high-speed video recordings, we analyse the behaviour of bees as they approach and land on surfaces of various orientations. The bees enter a stable hover phase, immediately prior to touchdown. We have quantified behaviour during this hover phase and examined whether it changes as the tilt of the landing surface is varied from horizontal (floor), through sloped (uphill) and vertical (wall), to inverted (ceiling). The bees hover at a remarkably constant distance from the surface, irrespective of its tilt. Body inclination increases progressively as the tilt of the surface is increased, and is accompanied by an elevation of the antennae. The tight correlation between the tilt of the surface, and the orientation of the body and the antennae, indicates that the bee's visual system is capable of inferring the tilt of the surface, and pointing the antennae toward it. Touchdown is initiated by extending the appendage closest to the surface, namely, the hind legs when landing on horizontal or sloping surfaces, and the front legs or antennae when landing on vertical surfaces. Touchdown on inverted surfaces is most likely triggered by a mechanosensory signal from the antennae. Evidently, bees use a landing strategy that is flexibly tailored to the varying topography of the terrain.

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