Nav: Home

Honeybee dance dialects

March 04, 2020

After more than 70 years, a great mystery of zoology has been solved: Honeybees actually use different dance dialects in their waggle dance. Which dialect has developed during evolution is related to the radius of action in which they collect food around the hive.

This is reported by research teams from the Biocenter of Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, and the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore, India, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

That honey bees might have dance dialects was first proposed in the 1940s by nobel laureate Karl von Frisch and his student Martin Lindauer. Later experiments, however, raised doubts about the existence of the dialects. The new results now prove that Frisch and Lindauer were right. The two pioneers of behavioural research were also right with their explanation why the dance dialects exist at all.

This is what the bees' dances are about

The dance language of the honeybees is a unique form of symbolic communication in the animal kingdom. For example, when a bee has discovered a blossoming cherry tree, it returns to the hive. There it informs the other bees with a dance about the direction in which the food source is located and how far away it is.

Part of the dance is the so-called waggle run, in which the bees energetically shake their abdomen. The direction of the waggle run on the honeycomb communicates the direction of the destination in relation to the position of the sun while the duration of the wagging indicates the distance.

"As the distance of the food source from the nest increases, the duration of the wagging increases in a linear fashion," explains JMU PhD student Patrick Kohl, first author of the publication. However, this increase is different for different bee species. This was shown in experiments carried out by the research team in southern India.

Experiments with three honeybee species in South India

There, three bee species with different radii of action were studied. The eastern honeybees (Apis cerana) fly up to about one kilometre away from the nest. The dwarf honeybees (Apis florea) fly up to 2.5 kilometres, the giant honeybees (Apis dorsata) about three kilometres.

The opposite relationships apply for the increase in the duration of the wagging. For example, if a food source is 800 meters away, an eastern honeybee will have a much longer wagging than a dwarf honeybee, and the latter will have a longer wagging than the giant honeybee. In order to communicate an identical distance to the food, each species uses its own dance dialect.

"We also saw this when we compared our results with published data from other research groups," says Patrick Kohl. The correlation between foraging range and dance dialect was corroborated when looking at honeybee species native to England, Botswana, and Japan.

Why did JMU researchers go to South India in the first place? "India has the advantage that three honeybee species live in the same area, so that their dance dialects can be easily compared," said Kohl. "We also have very good contacts with researchers at NCBS, a top research address in South Asia."

Dialects as evolutionary adaptations

The results also confirm what von Frisch and Lindauer had suspected about the meaning of the dance dialects. These are evolutionary adaptations to the honeybee species' typical foraging distances. Honeybees, for example, which regularly fly long distances, cannot afford to communicate these distances in the hive with very long waggle runs: On the crowded dance floor in the hive, other bees would have difficulties following such "marathon waggings".

The scientists' conclusion: The dance dialects of the bees are an excellent example of how complex behaviours can be tuned as an evolutionary adaptation to the environment.
-end-


University of Würzburg

Related Bees Articles:

Bees point to new evolutionary answers
Evolutionary biology aims to explain how new species arise and evolve to occupy myriad niches -- but it is not a singular or simplistic story.
Quantifying objects: bees recognize that six is more than four
A new study at the University of Cologne proves that insects can perform basic numerical cognition tasks.
Prescribed burns benefit bees
Freshly burned longleaf pine forests have more than double the total number of bees and bee species than similar forests that have not burned in over 50 years, according to new research from North Carolina State University.
Insecticides are becoming more toxic to honey bees
Researchers discover that neonicotinoid seed treatments are driving a dramatic increase in insecticide toxicity in U.S. agricultural landscapes, despite evidence that these treatments have little to no benefit in many crops.
Neonicotinoids: Despite EU moratorium, bees still at risk
Since 2013, a European Union moratorium has restricted the application of three neonicotinoids to crops that attract bees because of the harmful effects they are deemed to have on these insects.
Bees 'surf' atop water
Ever see a bee stuck in a pool? He's surfing to escape.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
Where are the bees? Tracking down which flowers they pollinate
Earlham Institute (EI), with the University of East Anglia (UEA), have developed a new method to rapidly identify the sources of bee pollen to understand which flowers are important for bees.
Pesticides deliver a one-two punch to honey bees
A new paper in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that adjuvants, chemicals commonly added to pesticides, amplify toxicity affecting mortality rates, flight intensity, colony intensity, and pupae development in honey bees.
Trees for bees
Planting more hedgerows and trees could hold the key to helping UK bees thrive once again, a new study argues.
More Bees News and Bees Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.