• Image compostion of a honeybee and a spike train from a intracellular recording
Chair of Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology

Pfeiffer lab - Neuroethology of spatial orientation

Insects show a broad repertoire of spatial orientation behaviors. This includes simple behaviors, like straight-line orientation, as well as long-range navigation and the ability to return to a nest on a direct path at any time (vector navigation or path integration). All these behaviors are facilitated through sensory information, especially from the visual and olfactory system.

Bees use an internal sky compass, which allows them to orient themselves with respect to the position of the sun. Both the direct sunlight as well as the polarization pattern of the sky and its spectral gradient can be used as reference cues for orientation. Beyond the sky compass, landmarks and the visual panorama play an important role in the orientation of bees.

Our group studies how information from these different reference systems is being used, how they are interconnected and how the different sources of information information are integrated and processed in the brain. Our studies are carried out on honeybees and bumblebees using anatomical, physiological and ethological methods. This includes dye injection into neurons, immunocytochemistry, electrophysiology, and behavioral experiments.


  • Electrophysiological studies of the dynamic properties of compass-neurons in the brain of bumblebees
  • Neuroanatomical studies of the compass-system in bumblebees and honeybees
  • Behavioral studies of the bumblebee visual system
  • Influence of temperature on processing of visual stimuli

Selected publications

  • Rother, L., Kraft, N., Smith, D. B., el Jundi, B., Gill, R. J., and Pfeiffer, K. (2021) A micro-CT-based standard brain atlas of the bumblebee, Cell and Tissue Research 386, 29–45.
  • Zittrell, F., Pfeiffer, K., and Homberg, U. (2020) Matched-filter coding of sky polarization results in an internal sun compass in the brain of the desert locust, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences 117, 25810–25817.
  • Hensgen, R., England, L., Homberg, U., and Pfeiffer, K. (2020) Neuroarchitecture of the central complex in the brain of the honeybee: neuronal cell types, Journal of Comparative Neurology 529, 159–186.
  • Bech, M., Homberg, U., and Pfeiffer, K. (2014) Receptive Fields of Locust Brain Neurons Are Matched to Polarization Patterns of the Sky, Current Biology 24, 2124–2129.
  • Pfeiffer, K., and Homberg, U. (2007) Coding of Azimuthal Directions via Time-Compensated Combination of Celestial Compass Cues, Current Biology 17, 960–965.