We all know how important bees are to our ecosystem with their pollination assistance that helps local environments flourish. We also know how industrious they are, working as a team for the good of the hive. But did you know honeybees also communicate through dance to share information within the colony?
The most well-known dance performed by honeybees is the waggle dance. The waggle dance is performed to convey information within the colony about the location, distance, and direction of food sources, such as nectar and pollen. It is an essential component of the bees’ foraging behaviour, helping them to locate and exploit food resources efficiently.
The Waggle Dance
The waggle dance consists of a series of specific movements performed by a forager bee upon returning to the hive after discovering a good food source. The dance has two main components: the “waggle” phase and the “return” phase.
During the waggle phase, the bee moves forward in a straight line while vigorously shaking its abdomen from side to side. The duration of the waggle phase correlates with the distance to the food source—the longer the waggle, the farther away the food source is.
After the waggle phase, the bee makes a return loop to the starting point of the dance and repeats the waggle phase. The angle at which the bee moves during the waggle phase in relation to the vertical axis of the honeycomb represents the direction of the food source relative to the sun.
Other bees in the colony observe and interpret the waggle dance to learn the location of the food source. They then fly out to forage, using the information gleaned from the dance to navigate to the specific location.
The honeybee waggle dance is crucial for the success and survival of the colony as it allows bees to communicate efficiently, sharing information about the location and quality of food sources, which enables the colony to optimise its foraging efforts. This efficiency helps the bee colony to thrive, grow, and produce honey, which is used as a food source during periods of scarcity.
How Far To Bees Fly For Food?
The distance honeybees fly in search of food can vary greatly depending on factors such as the availability of food sources, the needs of the colony, and environmental conditions. Typically, honeybees forage within 2 to 3 miles from their hive. However, if food sources are scarce, they can travel much farther distances, up to around 5 miles or more.
Honeybees prefer to forage as close to the hive as possible to conserve energy and maximise the efficiency of their foraging efforts, which is why the waggle dance is such a core part of hive activity. The bees will prioritise closer and more abundant food sources to ensure the colony’s survival and growth.
Other Bee Dances
Along with the waggle dance, honeybees perform other dances to communicate information within the colony. The two other main dances are the round dance and the tremble dance.
The round dance is performed by forager bees when they find a food source near the hive, typically within 50-100 metres. The dance involves the forager bee moving in a circular pattern, alternating between clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. This dance conveys information about the presence of a nearby food source but does not provide specific information about its direction. Instead, it informs other bees that food is close and encourages them to search the surrounding area.
The tremble dance is performed by forager bees when there is a need to recruit more receiver bees to process incoming nectar inside the hive. The dance involves a bee moving around the comb while trembling its body at a high frequency. This dance signals to other bees that more help is needed to unload nectar from the forager bees and process it into honey.
These dances, along with the waggle dance, form a complex communication system that honeybees use to share information about food sources, coordinate their foraging efforts, and maintain the overall health and efficiency of the colony.