Linking magnetite in the abdomen of honey bees to a magnetoreceptive function
Veronika Lambinet, Michael E. Hayden, Katharina Reigl, Surath Gomis, Gerhard Gries
Published 22 March 2017.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2873
Previous studies of magnetoreception in honey bees, Apis mellifera, focused on the identification of magnetic material, its formation, the location of the receptor and potential underlying sensory mechanisms, but never directly linked magnetic material to a magnetoreceptive function. In our study, we demonstrate that ferromagnetic material consistent with magnetite plays an integral role in the bees' magnetoreceptor. Subjecting lyophilized and pelletized bee tagmata to analyses by a superconducting quantum interference device generated a distinct hysteresis loop for the abdomen but not for the thorax or the head of bees, indicating the presence of ferromagnetic material in the bee abdomen. Magnetic remanence of abdomen pellets produced from bees that were, or were not, exposed to the 2.2-kOe field of a magnet while alive differed, indicating that magnet exposure altered the magnetization of this magnetite in live bees. In behavioural two-choice field experiments, bees briefly exposed to the same magnet, but not sham-treated control bees, failed to sense a custom-generated magnetic anomaly, indicating that magnet exposure had rendered the bees' magnetoreceptor dysfunctional. Our data support the conclusion that honey bees possess a magnetite-based magnetoreceptor located in the abdomen.
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