Anyone who has “lost” their car in a parking garage knows the importance of remembering its location. Bees don’t have cars, but honey bees have a remarkable ability to remember and return to the location of a food source. Bees use a process called snapshot matching to return to a location. When a bee is at a location that contains food, the bee stores a “snapshot” of the prominent landmarks in its brain. The snapshot is a 2-dimensional pattern, as bees are unable to form 3-dimensional images.
Cartwright and Collett* presented bees with a sugar water source in a bare room with only a single cylinder to serve as a landmark. If the sugar water was removed, bees would search most intensely in the area where the dish had been. If the size of the cylinder was increased, the bees no longer searched the previous location of the sugar water. Instead, they searched an area further distant. As objects become more distant, they appear smaller. At the location where the bees go, the larger cylinder occupies a similar fraction of their visual field as the smaller cylinder did when they “learned” the location.
The conclusion is that the bees compare the live image to a stored “snapshot” of the desired location. Bees will move until the live image matches the snapshot. That is how bees know they have arrived.
*B.A. Cartwright and T.S. Collett. Landmark Learning in Bees. J Comp Physiol (1983) 151:521-543