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Learning English - Words in the News
26 July, 2006 - Published 10:59 GMT
A bumblebee
A bumblebee

Scientists in the UK say that bumblebees have an amazing ability to find their way back home from up to 13 kilometres away. But the researchers have found that not every bee likes to travel that far. This report from Matt McGrath:

Listen to the story

Scientists have long known that bumblebees have a powerful homing instinct, but researchers from the University of Newcastle in the North East of England wanted to see just how far from home these large bodied bees could travel.

With numbered tags stuck to their chests, the bumblebees in this study were set free at various points around the local area. Previous research indicated that these bees might travel about 5 kilometres at most. But scientists were surprised when they found that could make their way home from 13 kilometres.

Researchers are not sure of how bees navigate but they feel that vision is crucial, with bumblebees flying in a straight line using landmarks as clues.

But not every bee likes to return home - Dr. Mark O'Neill from the University of Newcastle explained that for Queen Bees, the journey back was just too much like hard work.

Dr. O’Neil: The Queens will return to the nest if you release them near to the nest but if you release them far from the nest they’ll just sort of find a place to hole up because, basically, they’re not part of the working part of the colony. All they are doing is sort of fattening themselves up to go into hibernation to build their own nests next year.

Scientists are hoping their research will give them some valuable insights into whether bees are confused by built-up environments like cities. They believe this will be very useful information in trying to stop the decline of the insect in the UK.

Matt McGrath, BBC

Listen to the words

a powerful homing instinct
a very good ability to find their way back to where they live

set free

the local area
all the places (e.g. land, parks, towns etc.) that are only a few kilometres away from where a person lives – here, this refers to places that are close to the bees’ nest

vision is crucial
(the bees’) eyesight is the most important thing (in helping the bees find their way home)

things (e.g. buildings) that are easily recognisable and which you can use to help you know where you are

too much like hard work
this is a fixed phrase used to describe something that you don’t want to do because you think it requires a lot of effort

to hole up
to stay somewhere, usually a safe place and usually for a short period of time

fattening themselves up
eating lots of food so that they become fatter – here, the Queen Bees are doing this to help them survive during periods when they are not going to be able to eat

built-up environments
places that have a lot of buildings

the decline of the insect
the reduction in the number of bees that are alive

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