Most humans are right-handed … but what about honeybees? A new study from Australia's University of Queensland indicates that about a quarter of them are, while another quarter are left-handed, and half have no preference. The findings could have implications for the steering of fleets of aerial drones.

Led by Prof. Mandyam Srinivasan, the researchers set up an experiment in which honeybees had to fly down an enclosed passage in order to get from their hive to a food source and back. Along the way, they had to pass through one of two side-by-side openings.

When those openings were the same size, about 55 percent of the bees didn't routinely choose one over the other. Half of the remaining 45 percent consistently chose the left opening, however, while the other half chose the right (the bees were individually marked, so they could be told apart).

Things changed when the openings weren't the same size, though – the wider that one opening was than the other, the more likely the bees were to choose it. That said, biased bees still took longer to make the decision to go through, if the wider opening wasn't the one that they would ordinarily choose.

According to the scientists, this bias system may help swarms of bees – and could potentially help fleets of autonomous drones – when they're flying through foliage or other obstacles.

If all the bees had no bias, then there's the chance that a large majority of them could crowd one path through the foliage, leaving another under-utilized. This would slow them down, and increase the likelihood of wing damage via collisions. If they all had the same bias, then there would definitely be a problem. With the bias split up the way that it is, though, things are kept running smoothly.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal PLOS One.

Source: The University of Queensland