The dance language of bees

17th June 2005 at 01:00
In 1923 a German researcher, Karl von Frisch, discovered that honeybees could direct their nest-mates to the location of a food-source. The so-called "waggle dance" codes not only for distance and direction, but also for the relative richness of the food-source.

The basic dance is a figure of eight traced out by a scurrying worker on the vertical surface in the darkness of the hive. Having found a good food source, she depicts its direction according to its angle from the sun, waggling her abdomen as she runs in a straight line at the same angle.

Other workers follow her movements with their antennae and then set off in the direction she dictates. As a researcher on wasps before my teaching career, I once witnessed the accuracy of this amazing bee language. I had put out a dish of honey to attract wasps from a nearby nest, when I noticed a honeybee land and feed for a minute or two. Afterwards she circled the dish before flying off. To my astonishment, the dish was soon swarming with honeybees she had recruited, and within 20 minutes the honey had gone.

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