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Do bees communicate by dancing?

Did you know that bees communicate through dancing? Through their flight movements they show their fellow birds the distance and direction of food sources. Find out how this fascinating animal communication system works in this article.

They say that if bees die out, humans will have very little time left. That’s probably partly true (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration), but the good news is that bees overall aren’t extinct yet. A special kind Apis melliferaThe domestic bee that provides us with honey is becoming more and more common.

Why do bees dance?

In bee society, as in human society, communication is very important. Bees, like ants and other social insects, use pheromones to establish close communication between individuals. However, some messages are better conveyed in another way: through dance. Bees communicate through dancing, but this dance is not a series of random movements, but rather a thoughtful and carefully balanced performance.

The job of forager bees, called hive scouts by entomologists, is to find food and inform others of their discoveries. After the bee has discovered a rich source of nectar or pollen while searching for food, it returns to the hive and performs a very special dance.

How do bees dance?

One of the most extensive studies in this field was conducted more than 20 years ago by entomologist Fred C. Dyer of Michigan State University. This provides compelling evidence of how bees encode information through dance.

The collector performs a series of movements in the shape of a figure eight, with a phase considered crucial called “”.Tremorphase“. At this moment, the bee vibrates its body and moves its wings at a speed that encodes the distance to the food. Furthermore, the angle at which the bee performs this part of the dance in relation to the vertical indicates with surprising precision the direction of the food in relation to the sun.

The fact that bees communicate through dancing is a perfect example of how animals can communicate complex information effectively and precisely. The ability of bees to provide accurate data about the location and quality of food sources is critical to the survival and success of the hive.

Bees communicate through dancing

Not all bees communicate through dancing

Most studies have focused on domestic bees, Apis mellifera, a bee that is becoming increasingly common. But that’s only one side of the coin, on the other hand there are wild bees, many of which are threatened by the same native bee species, which has spread to every continent except the extreme south of the planet and is fiercely competing for resources. same resources.

In Spain there are more than 1,100 species of bees, all important and many of them threatened with extinction. From the country’s high mountains to the country’s sunny coasts, these insects contribute significantly, although not exclusively, to pollination, an ecosystem service essential to the maintenance of many plant species.

Not all wild bees dance. Insects that exhibit social behavior, such as bumblebees in the genus Bombus, yes they do, although in a less subtle way. However, most Spanish species are solitary. In these independent species, each bee works individually to obtain food and does not have to inform others about the location of the food source.

Are they born dancing or do they learn it?

Bees communicate through dancing, but although this may seem like a genetically transmitted instinctive behavior, it also involves an element of social learning.

According to a recent study by researcher Shihao Dong of the University of California, San Diego, young bees that do not have the opportunity to see other bees dance exhibit significant deficits in performing appropriate dances and jumps.

However, young bees watching experienced dancers learned to determine location (direction and distance) more accurately and assess the quality of resources more effectively. This phenomenon reflects the importance of social learning in the development and effectiveness of bees’ foraging strategies.

The study by Dong and colleagues, published in the renowned journal Science, underlines that despite their small size, bees have a remarkable ability to learn and adapt, which highlights the complexity of their social behavior and communication.

It’s more than a dance

The bee dance is a complex communication network that uses multiple sensory systems to interpret and transmit information.

They rely on eyesight to orientate themselves by the sun and read the dances of their companions. They use balance to sense gravity and determine the angle to the vertical. The vibrations and sounds produced by the dancing bees are important elements that complement the visual information.

Acoustic communication through vibrations, supplemented by tactile features and of course pheromones, is also a way to improve communication in hives where light is limited.

The integration of these sensory systems into bee communication reveals intelligence and processing capabilities that challenge our traditional understanding of cognitive function in insects. Bees communicate through dancing and not only is this based on simple instincts, but they also process and transmit information in complex ways using a combination of visual, tactile, acoustic and chemical signals.

References:

  • Brockmann, A. et al. 2007. Central projections of sensory systems involved in vocal communication of the honey bee dance. Brain, Behavior and Evolution, 70, 125-136. DOI: 10.1159/000102974
  • Donaldson-Matasci, MC et al. 2012. How habitat affects the benefits of communication in foraging co-operation in honey bees. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 66, 583-592. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-011-1306-z
  • Dong, S. et al. 2023. Social signal learning of the waggle dance in honey bees. Science, 379, 1015-1018. DOI: 10.1126/science.ade1702
  • Dyer, F. 2002. The biology of dance language. Annual Review of Entomology, 47, 917-949. DOI: 10.1146/ANNUREV.ENTO.47.091201.145306
  • Molina, C. et al. 2019. Field guide to the bees of Spain.

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