Saturday, 18 May 2013

Dancing Bees Love the Waggle

Honey bee collecting pollen
Honey bees are well known for their waggle dance. A worker bee who has returned back to the hive from foraging will waggle her body as she walks in a straight line (waggle run) before turning either to the left or right and return to the starting point. This signature dance  provides other bees within the nest with information about the presence, location, quality and odour of profitable food sources. The fellow bees are able to detect the direction and distance vector from the nest to the feeding location, from this information rich waggle run. Depending on the resource quality and nectar availability, the dancing bee may perform anywhere from 1 to 100 or more waggle runs.

This article aimed to investigate how the characteristics of the waggle dances for natural food sources and environmental factors affect natural dance follower behaviour. It was predicted that distance of the advertised food source and the informational noise in the
waggle run affect dance follower behaviour.

Three colonies of honey bees (A. mellifera mellifera), were housed in glass-walled hives in a laboratory  kept at 20°C. This allowed for monitoring of good health and similarity between colonies during the experiment. The hives were connected to the outside world by a plastic tube which allowed foragers free flying access. Each colony had a queen, brood, 5000 workers, honey stores and space to sore extra honey and pollen.The waggle dances were recorded by cameras that were directed towards the area of most dances (the “dance floor”) each day. 

The waggle dance
To determine dance follower behaviour, followers were identified as bees that were facing the dancer during the waggle run and following the dancer's movement. How many waggle runs each one of these dance follower bees followed gave a dance follower duration time. This dance following behaviour was carried out in four months (September 2009; April, May and July 2010) when food abundance and average foraging distance varied greatly and where three seasons (spring, summer and autumn) were also accounted for. 

The behaviour of 2,405 dance followers in 602 dances were analysed to give the following results:

  • workers follow fewer waggle runs as the food location distance increases, but they will invest more time in following each dance.
  • The number of dance followers per dancing bee was affected by the time of year and varied among colonies; dances had more followers in September
  • foragers are attracted to dancers that carry familiar food odours leading to a higher number of dance followers
  • Bees might not need to follow as many waggle runs to get accurate information on distant food source direction but when learning the precise distance of this food source they need to follow more waggle runs.
  • Worker bees followed slightly more waggle runs for distant food sources when angular variation among waggle runs was greater, this suggested that followers might compensate for low signal quality (low signal to noise ratio) for distant food sources by investing more time in dance following.

I think it is pretty cool that bees are able to communicate in this way, and learn so much from a few dance moves. However I would make a horrible bee because I am so uncoordinated when it come to dancing/trying to learn dance moves!

Thanks for reading :)

For videos on the bee waggle dance check out these:
The Waggle Dance of the Honeybee
Bee Dance (waggle dance)
Bees and Wasps: World's Weirdest: Honey Bee Dance Moves

For the full article:
Honey bee waggle dance communication: signal meaning and signal noise affect dance follower behaviour

For more information:
The honey bee dance language

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