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Multi-modal imaging and analysis in the search for iron-based magnetoreceptors in the honeybee Apis mellifera.


The honeybee Apis mellifera is one of many animal species for which empirical evidence of a magnetic sense has been provided. The underlying mechanisms postulated for magnetoreception in bees are varied, but most point towards the abdomen as the most likely anatomical region for its location, partly owing to the large accumulation of iron in trophocyte cells that comprise the honeybee fat body. Using a multi-modal imaging and analysis approach, we have investigated iron in the honeybee, with a particular focus on the abdomen and the utility of such techniques as applied to magnetoreception. Abdominal iron is shown to accumulate rapidly, reaching near maximum levels only 5 days after emerging from the comb and is associated with the accumulation of iron within the fat body. While fat body iron could be visualized, no regions of interest, other than perhaps the fat body itself, were identified as potential sites for magnetoreceptive cells. If an iron-based magnetoreceptor exists within the honeybee abdomen the large accumulation of iron in the fat body is likely to impede its discovery.

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