Honeybees’ Waggle Dance Verified

May 12, 2005

A new study provides strong evidence of the effectiveness of the ‘dance language’ used by honeybees to describe to other hive members the whereabouts of a food source. By radar tracking bees that observed these waggle dances, researchers show that the instructions do work, but not with pinpoint accuracy.

The waggle dance hypothesis, first proposed by the Nobel Prize-winning zoologist Karl von Frisch, has long come under fire from those who point out that bees observing the dance do not always find the food. But this is because they still have to search for the food when they get to the prescribed location, report J. R. Riley and colleagues.

Riley’s team caught bees that had witnessed a waggle dance, and tagged them with miniature radar transponders. They found that all bees took off in the right direction and arrived in the vicinity of the feeder, but then had to use visual or odour cues to pin down the food source. What’s more, when bees caught just outside the hive were moved to a new location, they flew to a correspondingly ‘wrong’ destination, showing that they were following a prescribed set of directions. “We hope that ... our results will also be accepted as a vindication of the von Frisch hypothesis,” Riley and his colleagues write in the May 12, 2005 Nature.

Abstract © 2005 Nature

“The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance,” J. R. Riley, U. Greggers, A. D. Smith, D. R. Reynolds, R. Menzel, Nature, May 12, 2005

J. R. Riley (Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, UK)

For more:
Social Insects: Honeybee Dances