The antennae of the honeybee enable smooth landings by sensing landing distance and angle, signaling the body to orient appropriately.

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Honeybees come in contact with a variety of surfaces throughout their day of flying and foraging. It has been observed that a honeybee can achieve smooth landings upon any surface, regardless of the angle or orientation of its landing. This means that the bee lands just as smoothly upon a vertically-oriented leaf as a horizontal one.
This smooth landing is attributed to the bee’s ability to evaluate and adjust its distance from the landing platform. When nearing a landing surface, the bee decelerates. Within a few centimeters of the surface, the bee hovers, using its antennae to sense the platform’s orientation. Once the bee is 16 miillimeters away, it adjusts its body based upon the angle sensed by its antennae. The base of its antennae remain at this 16-millimeter distance from the landing platform regardless of the platform’s orientation. Only the body of the honeybee adjusts to the tilt of the platform. The bee’s closest feet touch down first, allowing the rest of its body to follow.

This 16-millimeter distance seems to be the ideal placement for the honeybee to make contact with the surface with any one of its feet. The foot that first contacts the surface varies by landing orientation. A horizontal platform initiates a hindleg landing, while a vertical platform initiates a foreleg landing.

This summary was contributed by Ashley Meyers.
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“The most interesting finding of the present study is that, during the final hover phase, bees keep the distance from their head to the landing surface amazingly constant at a value of about 16 mm, irrespective of the tilt of the surface. Presumably, this is the perfect distance from which to initiate the final landing manoeuvre, namely, extending the legs for touchdown. From about 16 mm away a bee can just reach the surface with one or more of its appendages, be it merely extending the hind legs onto a horizontal surface, or grabbing an overhead surface by extending the forelegs over its head.” (Evangelista et al. 2010:268)

Journal article
The moment before touchdown: landing manoeuvres of the honeybee Apis melliferaJournal of Experimental BiologyDecember 28, 2009
C. Evangelista, P. Kraft, M. Dacke, J. Reinhard, M. V. Srinivasan

Bees always have a safe landing

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