You wouldn’t believe how bees communicate

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 17.46.32Honey bees have their own ingenious method of communicating, enabling them to direct the other members of their colony to food, water or a new place for habitation.

When a bee wishes to communicate to the other bees of its colony that it has found something beneficial to the hive, such as a large food source, it uses the waggle dance to inform them not only of its direction but also its relative distance. The waggle dance is a figure-of-eight motion that is repeated in circuit from anywhere from one to 100 times, with the intensity of the bee’s dancing motion (the vibration of its abdomen back and forth). This dance communicates how excited it is about the find, its direction of straight-line motion indicating the direction of the find in relation to the Sun’s position outside, and the length of said straight-line waggling motion explaining how far it is from the hive. By undertaking this waggle dance, many members of the hive can be informed quickly to its presence, enabling them to locate and exploit the find quickly and efficiently.

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Honey bees have their own secret language

Step 1: Direction

Upon identifying a food source (such as a good supply of nectar), a water source or a possible new housing location, the honey bee returns to the hive. It flies to as close to the hive’s centre as possible before aligning itself with its target’s direction by angling itself to a certain degree from the Sun’s position outside of the hive.

Step 2: Dance

The bee then begins its waggle routine, which is a dance-like motion with two distinct phases, the waggle run and the return. The waggle run consists of a straight-line movement in the direction of the target, with the bee’s abdomen rapidly moving back and forth and side to side. The return, which is activated at the end of the waggle run, is a curved movement back to its starting point without any waggling action.

Step 3: Duplicate

The bee then replicates the same phases, with the waggle run followed by the return, however this time it turns in the opposite direction at the end of the run, thereby completing a figure-of-eight shape. The total figure-of-eight procedure is then repeated until other bees in the hive are aware of the target’s direction and distance from the hive (the length of the waggle run is an indication of the target’s distance).


Read next:

How do bees make honey?

Bumblebees have favourite colours 

How can bees fly if they’re too heavy?


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