Know the best place to eat? Get down and boogie.
Food is essential to survival, so it is important to know where you can get a good feed. But you don’t want to waste your time (and money) going to the place down the road that ends up giving you food poisoning. You want to know where to get the best kebabs, or pizza, or smashed avocado on toast. The best way to do this is to ask your mates.
Bees do the same thing.
When a worker bee finds a good place to eat, it flies back to the hive and tells its mates. But because bees can’t talk like you and I, they communicate a different way: they dance.
Bees working comb. Source: Flickr
Shake that booty
This dance, termed the Waggle Dance, provides other bees with all the information they need to find the food source. The dance tells bees the quality of the resource, as well as how far away it is and what direction it is according to the sun’s current location.
The waggle dance occurs in the hive and is circular, performed around a cell in the comb. During portions of the circuit, the bee will “shake her booty” (for all workers are female) from side to side, giving rise to the term ‘waggle’. The more circuits the bee does in the dance, the better quality of the resource. The more enthusiastic the dancing, the more workers she is able to recruit to the resource.
The bees watching the dance will know which way the resource is by the direction of the waggling with respect to the sun. How fast the dance occurs lets bees know how far away the food is from the hive.
Scent is also a factor of the dance that helps guide bees to good feeding places. When a worker collects nectar or pollen from a resource, they also pick up the scent of the resource. When they return to the hive, the scent helps workers to narrow down the exact location of the resource.
Overall, the waggle dance allows bees to forage more efficiently as they can go straight to known quality resources, rather than having to find them on their own.
Check out this video from National Geographic showing the waggle dance:
Plants: a supermarket for bees
When I use the term ‘food’, this could mean either nectar or pollen. Produced by plants, nectar is a liquid containing high amounts of sugar. Bees reduce the amount of water in nectar by up to 50% to produce honey. Bees require nectar for food, which they store away in their hives until it is needed. When they collect more than they need, that’s when we can harvest the delectable substance called honey that we all love so much.
Pollen describes dust-like grains that are the male reproducing parts of flowers. When pollen is transported to compatible female parts of plants (often by bees), pollination occurs. Pollen is a bee’s source of protein and is required for feeding young bees.
Bee collecting pollen. Source: Flickr
A note of caution
Certain pesticides have been found to impair waggle dancing in bees. With waggle dancing having such an important role in foraging efficiency, the use of some pesticides could have negative impacts on hive health.
So if you value your honey, or the fruit and vegetables that you eat (many pollinated by bees), take care in what chemicals you use in your garden.