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

Karl von Frisch was one of the first people to identify and describe this behaviour as a means of communication. His work on behaviour patterns actually earned him the Nobel Prize in 1973.

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.

14 Responses to “Know the best place to eat? Get down and boogie.”

  1. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Thanks nbolton! Bees are deceptive- they appear simple but we certainly can’t take their intelligence or complexity at face value

  2. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    No such thing as too many posts about bees- they are fantastic little creatures. We should start a trend on Urbanspoon…

  3. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Thanks lohj3 🙂

  4. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Thanks Alex 🙂

  5. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Thanks Emma! Hopefully one day everyone will appreciate just how great these creatures are.

  6. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Indeed; life would be like a musical. Pity I have two left feet.

  7. nbolton says:

    Super well written and interesting! Can’t believe how little I knew about bees! Love the urbanspoon analogy 🙂

  8. lohj3 says:

    Catchy title and an interesting article. =-)

  9. Isabelle says:

    Ahh, another post about bees! How cool are they?! Now I know what to do instead the next time I want to leave a 5-star review on Urbanspoon…

  10. Ellen Rochelmeyer says:

    Indeed. If something happened the bees, it is not only us who would suffer- there would be dire consequences for many plant species as well.

  11. Jethro Hasoloan says:

    Other than communication between bees, the plant itself is trying to communicate with the bees as well. Many plants rely on insects like bees in order to be pollinated; which is why they provide nectar to say thanks!

  12. Alex Weiss Aparicio says:

    Loved the title!

  13. Emma Arrigo says:

    The more I learn about bees the more I love them! Great informative article, really appreciated all the references and supplementary info so I could read more about these marvelous creatures.

  14. Marie says:

    Great post! I wish we could all dance instead of talking, I think the World would be a better place….