The brilliant honey bee dance was first revealed by a German zoologist and Nobel laureate, Karl von Frisch. This dance is a way for the worker bee to recruit and communicate with their fellow workers about the food sources that has been discovered. Through this way of communication, the other worker bees will detect the message using their sensitive antennae and be able to locate the food sources in order to bring the food back to their hive.
A bee that has just returned from a foraging trip will enter the hive where the other worker bees are and begin dancing on the dance floor, usually close to the entrance of the hive. There are typically two distinct types of honey bee dance: the first one is called the round dance and the second one is the waggle dance. The rhythm of the honey bee dance may vary among different species of honey bees.
Bees perform the round dance when the food source is relatively close to the hive, usually within 50 meters away. The way they perform this dance is by staying on one spot, and then turning alternately to the left and right repeatedly for around 30 seconds. This will send out a message to the other worker bees to locate the food source. The bees will touch the dancing bee’s antennae and trail after her.
Information about this food source, particularly the type of food they are looking for, is communicated through the scent of that particular food source. However, this dance does not tell the other bees about the distance and direction of the food sources, which is okay, since the area that they have to search is not very far from the hive.
As for the waggle dance, it is performed when the food source is further away from the hive. The bee will make a figure-eight by flying a short distance while waggling its abdomen, and then make a full circle to the left and back towards the starting point. The honey bee will repeat this move to the right, left and so on.
Unlike the round dance, the angle at which the bees perform this dance on the vertical honeycomb sends a message on the direction of the food source using the sun as the point of reference. A vertical angle means the food source is aligned directly with the direction of the sun from the hive. For each angle of variance, it means the food source is at an equivalent angle from the direction of the sun.
For example, let’s say that a bee does the waggle dance at a 50-degree angle from the vertical comb, the bee is telling the other bees that the food source is 50 degrees to the right of the sun when the bees leave the hive.
When performing this waggle dance, the bee produces a series of high-pitched sound. According to von Frisch, the more turns that the bee makes (the more wagging) and the longer the sound pulses produced in the honey bee dance, the closer the source is to the hive. The honey bees will produce lively dances when an attractive food source is discovered.
Attractive food sources can mean that the quality of the food is higher, such as nectar that contains a high concentration of sugar. Lively dance will usually attract more followers.
This extraordinary mode of communication is very important to the life of the bees, since it enables them to fully take advantage of the food sources that are available to them. The honey bee dance shows us a remarkable system of communication in the world of bees, and more generally, in the world of insects.