Busy bees do the knowledge just like cab drivers, say scientists.
Bees tagged with tiny radar reflectors revealed to researchers how they learned about their surroundings by making a series of pre-flights.
Only when they had a sufficient understanding of the landscape would they venture out in search of pollen.
With each reconnaissance flight the bees explore an increasingly larger area around the hive, flying faster to cover more distance in the same amount of time.
Like a taxi driver discovering streets and buildings, the bees eventually assimilate enough information about their local landscape to navigate safely.
Some bees took as few as one trip while others went on up to 17 orientation flights prior to becoming a forager.
The British and American scientists, from the University of Illinois and the University of Greenwich and Rothamsted Institute in the UK, reported their findings yesterday in the journal Nature.
Dr Beth Capaldi, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led the research, discovered that honeybees began their adult life labouring inside the hive as sanitation workers and nursemaids. They switched to foraging outside the hive at about three weeks old.
"Imagine living in the confines of a dark castle for about half your adult life, and then having to venture outside into a world full of sunshine to find food to bring home," she said.
"That would be a huge change in your sensory environment, and it would probably take time for you to adjust. That's how it is for the bees."
The scientists used a special radar system developed by the Greenwich team to track individual bees in flight.
Each bee wears a tiny tag which sends back a radio signal with a unique harmonic. The signal can be discriminated from background radar reflections because only the tagged bee responds with the frequency being broadcast by the scientists.
The researchers believe that with each orientation flight the bee observes its hive and locality from different positions, logging this knowledge within a brain the size of a grass seed.