Most of us have heard about the honey bee waggle dance and that honey bees communicate. While this is absolutely true, there’s a whole lot more going on than just this waggle dance. For bees to be successful they have to find food efficiently and effectively over a 5 mile radius area from their hive. That’s a big task for a little bee.
In the next three posts we’ll be talking about a great presentation by Daniel Najera, PhD in Entomology. He talked to the Puget Sound Beekeepers about Logical Decision Making in Honey Bees and filled us in on the fascinating research his group is doing on bee communication and decision making.
Bees forage so they can survive winter- aka when there are no flowers. Honey bees do not hibernate so they must be able to survive physiologically throughout the winter. They must stay active to protect the honey they have stored from bears, mice and other critters that would take it if they did hibernate.
The bees must go out to search for forage so they can communicate this location to the hive when they come back. They basically can’t communicate a location they have not been (they may be able to recommunicate but it’s not clear). Some flowers are only viable at certain times of the day so they must know what to communicate… not just the location of the resource but what time of the day the resource is available and how much of the resource exists. Imagine doing that with only a wiggle!
The dance is the old way of explaining how bees communicate. It’s a recruitment tool but it only works once they’ve found the resource. The dance translates where the sun is and where the resource is in relation. Gravity symbolically represents the position of the sun in the dark hive so the dance rotates according to the location based on the sun. Basically if the resource is directly towards the sun the dance goes up then down. Directly away from the sun and the dance goes down and then up. If the resource is closer to the hive the dance up and down becomes smaller. Further away and the length of the waggle becomes longer. Accuracy is within a meter of the resource. METERS!
If the resource is HUGE the bee will dance for longer. It’s possible that other bees will dance before going to the resource if the dance is impressive or long enough but it’s rare.
Pretty wild eh? Next post will be about how bees actually find resources to begin with, what bees can teach us and some other interesting facts about honey bees.