That sexy dance of the honey bee

Originally published July 10, 2011.

I bet you didn’t know honey bees are sexy. It starts with a sultry swinging of the hips from side to side, then moving to a figure eight as the worker bee wags her bee-hind back and forth.
Not since watching an episode of “Dancing with the Stars” have I wanted to see such booty shaken.
That little sashay is the way that honey bees communicate to one another about where food sources can be found. A short little Samba tells her hive mates of nearby food, water or other important things.  A longer Paso Doble points them not in the direction of Spain but to a food source much further away than what the Samba tells them.
I’m having a little fun with what is known as the “bee dance”. Quite frankly they wouldn’t know the difference between a Tango and a Waltz, but they certainly know how to “Waggle”.
The mystery of the “waggle dance” was discovered by Austrian biologist Karl von Frisch in the 1940s. His discovery that bees communicate in very simple ways led to his being awarded a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973. His work “The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees” was considered to be a major breakthrough in bee behaviour.
Interestingly, Aristotle also observed the “waggle” and believed it to be a means of communication. Von Frisch proved that the dance alerts others to the distance and location of food.
The dance pattern starts as a figure eight. The honey bee wiggles her behind back and forth as she walks a particular line. She then swings back in a figure eight pattern. Georgia Institute of Tech has this great video on Youtube.com that recreates Von Frisch’s experiment and explains just how these amazing creatures communicate. See also this story on their website.
Simply put, the bee uses gravity, the sun and its own internal clock to translate information that it needs to communicate. The bee uses gravity as a direction-finder inside the dark hive. The angle of her dance and the duration accurately tell the other bees where to forage. Scientists have been able to show that each second of dance is equal to about one kilometre in distance.
I’ve been trying to see a waggle dance in my own hive. But heck, I haven’t even been able to find my own queen and I’ve been preoccupied with finding proof she’s still alive (unlike Jeff’s Queen Ver. 1.0) I know they’ve done a number of waggle dances already. One clearly was to tell everyone the location of our neighbour’s pool. Despite our best efforts to give the hives water sources in our back yard, they found Cindy and Stew’s pool and have been dive-bombing to their deaths.
Now, that’s one waggle dance I’d like to find and ask if I could cut in.

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