Honeybees Communicating Through Dance
Bees are insects that are found on every continent except for Antarctica. As long as there are flowering plants then bees will be close by. Bees feed on nectar and pollen and produce honey. Besides creating honey bees are important for plant pollination and they tend to spend most of their day gathering pollen or nectar depending on the demand. Bees tend to live in communities where the division of labor is quite clear. The main form of communication for bees is bee dancing.
Honeybee dancing is used as a form of communication. Dance language or the waggle dance is thought to be the main form of communication between worker bees. There are many different types of dances that bees use in order to communicate. The waggle dance and the round dance are the two most widely used dances. Aristotle described this type of behavior in bees in 330 BC in Historia Animalium. He originally thought that the dance was to get the attention of other bees.
Karl von Frirsch, a German scientist, correlated the runs and turns of the dance to the distance and direction of food sources in relation to the hive, in 1947. He determined that the orientation of the dance correlated to the position of the sun to the food source and that the length of the dance relates to the distance traveled. In essence the worker bee does the round dance and waggle dance to tell all the other bees that they have found a good source of food and here are the directions to find it. (von Frisch, 1967)
Frisch undertook experiments to decipher the meaning of bee dances by using glass walled observation hives and paint marked forager bees. The bees were trained to find food at specific locations that had known distances. When the bees returned to the hive Frisch measured the duration and angle of the bees dance. (von Frisch, 1967)
The round dance is used to describe a food source that is very close to the hive, a distance of less then 50 meters. The bee will run around in narrow circles with sudden changes in direction (figure1). This dance is generally repeated a few times at many locations in the hive. A sickle dance is used to describe a food source that is between 50 to 150 meters from the hive. This is considered a transitional dance, incorporating a bit of the round and waggle dance. The waggle dance is used for food that is found more then 150 meters from the hive. The waggle dance communicates both distance and direction. The waggle dance begins with the bee running straight ahead, returns to the start point in a semicircle, runs straight again, then returns in a semi circle going in the other direction (figure 2). When the bee runs in a straight line the body waggles and the bee produces a buzzing sound. The dance tempo and duration of buzzing all relate to the distance but the length of the straight run is the easiest interpretation of distance. The closer the food the more frantic or frenzied the waggling. The further the distance the longer the waggle section of the dance. A linear relationship has been determined.
(von Frisch, 1967)
Providing direction information is not as straightforward as distance information. During the straight portion of the waggle dance, the orientation of the dancing will indicate the location of the food in relation to the sun. This angle represents the angle to the flowers relative to the sun. So the bee actually transposes the solar angle to a gravitational angle. This dance will change during the day as the angle of the sun changes. In order to completely interpret the honeybee’s directions you would need to know the angle of the waggle run and the compass direction of the sun. . This information varies depending on the time of day, date and location. (Riley et al., 2005)
This dance actual will vary depending on the species of bees. The dwarf honeybees, Apis andreniformis, only perform this dance on the horizontal portion of the hive and during the day. The majority of bees studied performed this dance at night suggesting that the bees adapted to an environment of low light. The correlation between distance and waggling also is species dependent. So in essence each hive or species speaks its own language, they are all similar so it is more like dialects.(Dryer and Seeley, 1991) The fact that each species is difference has suggested that the dance evolved as the dance is not learned but comes from genetics ( Johnson, R., et al, 2002). A new study on bees has discovered that a mixed colony of bees containing Asiatic honeybees and European honeybees can actually understand each others ‘dialects’ over time (Su et al 2008).
Honeybees also have cognitive map in which they can learn and store information, an important tool when communicating (Zhang et al. 2005). Research has proven that bees can form new flight paths based on remember visible landmarks as well as remember areas they have already visited (Gould and Towne, 1987). This type of memory coupled with the dance ability has developed and excellent method of food foraging by bees.
Another communication method that is controversial to the bee dance is the odor plume theory. The vast majority of scientists believe that bee dances provide all of the necessary information but a few researchers support the odor plume theory. This states that it is the nectar odor that recruits bees back to the food source. So one bee will bring the pollen or nectar back and the other bees will be bale to fid it based on the smell. The dance is simply to get everyone’s attentions. Some supporting evidence includes the fact that bees cannot find odorless sugar sources and the fact that the small scale dance if read incorrectly to could lead the bees far off course when large distances are being covered. (Visscher and Tanner, 2004) It is most likely that odor does play a roll in the food gathering practice but it may only be minor when combined with the bee waggle dance.
Besides the waggle dance honeybees also have a tremble dance. The tremble dance is used to recruit more receiver bees when workers are bringing in large amounts of nectar. The importance of this dance was discovered when it was noted that when the tremble danced stop the bees stopped gathering nectar. The tremble glance is used when a delay in unloaded nectar is noticed. (Anderson and Ratnieks, 1999) The tremble dance along with the waggle dance is the primary regulation mechanism that regulates bee behavior. There are a few other mechanisms that can change honeybee’s task allocation. (Seeley et al., 2004)
It can be said that without a doubt that bee dancing is important for communication though sound production and odor also play a small part. Much of bee communication is focused around work and when a bee only has one primary task to accomplish communication does not have to be extensive. It is fantastic to note how bees do rather difficult mathematics and then spread that information to others in the form of a waggle dance. Uncovering how they determine the exact angle and distance and then transform it into a dance is one of life’s mysteries. The ability for honeybees to learn and interact with other bees makes these insects fascinating to observe, as they may be able to unlock some of evolutions mysteries.
Anderson, C. and Ratnieks F., (1999) Worker allocation in insect societies: coordination of nectar foragers and nectar receivers in honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies, Behavioral ecology and Sociobiology, 6 (2), pgs 73-81
Dyer, F.C., T.D. Seeley (1991). Dance dialects and foraging range in three Asian honey bee species. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 28: 227-233
Gould J, Towne W (1987) The evolution of the dance language. American Naturalist 130: 317–338
Johnson, R.N., Oldroyd, B.P., Barron, A.B., and Crozier, R.H., (2002) Genetic control of the honey bee (Apis mellifera) dance language: segregating dance forms in a backcrossed colony, Journal of hereditry, 93 (3), 170-173
Riley, J.R., Greggers, U., Smith, A.D., Reynolds, D.R. & Menzel, R. (2005). The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance. Nature 435: 205-207.
Seeley, T.D., P.K. Visscher, and K.M. Passino. (2006) Group decision making in honey bee swarms. American Scientist. 94:220-229
Su, S., Cai, F., Si, A., Zhang, S., and Tautz, J., (2008) East Learns from West: Asiatic Honeybees Can Understand Dance Language of European Honeybees, PloS ONE 3 (6), e2365 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002365
Visscher, P.K. and Tanner, D.A. (2004). Sensory aspects of recruitment-dance performance in honey bees (Apis mellifera). in: Hartfelder, K.H, De Jong, D. et al. eds. (2004) Proceedings of the 8th IBRA International Conference on Tropical Bees and VI Encontro sobre Abelhas. Ribierao Preto: USP/FM
von Frisch, K. (1967) The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
Zhang, S; Bock F, Si A, Tautz J, Srinivasan MV (2005). Visual working memory in decision making by honey bees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102 (14): 5250–5
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