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Honeybees use different dance dialects

When communicating distance through dance, the eastern honeybee waggles its abdomen longer than other species communicating the same distance. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
When communicating distance through dance, the eastern honeybee waggles its abdomen longer than other species communicating the same distance. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

March 4 (UPI) -- Honeybees have evolved a diversity of dialects, according to new research. Analysis suggests the evolution of a bee's dance dialect is dictated by the distance bees will travel to bring food back to the hive.

As numerous studies have detailed, bees wiggle their abdomen in a dance-like pattern to tell their hive mates where and how far away a newly discovered food source is. The direction of the shimmy communicates the direction of the food source, while the duration of the dance tells how far away it is.

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"As the distance of the food source from the nest increases, the duration of the wagging increases in a linear fashion," researcher Patrick Kohl, doctoral student at the University of W├╝rzburg in Germany, said in a news release.

In the 1940s, Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch and his student Martin Lindauer successfully decoded the waggle dance of honeybees. They also hypothesized that different bees used different dialects, but followup studies cast doubt on their hypothesis.

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Three-quarters of a century later, von Frisch and Lindauer have been vindicated. Kohl and his research partners found the relationship between the duration of the dance and the distance of the food source is different for different bee species.

For the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, scientists observed the dances of three bee species from India: eastern honeybees, Apis cerana; dwarf honeybees, Apis florea; and giant honeybees, Apis dorsata.

Eastern honeybees venture a little over half of a mile from their hive. Dwarf honeybees fly up to 1.5 miles in search of food, and giant honeybees will travel nearly 3 miles from the nest.

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

The observations of scientists showed the three species communicate the same distance using different dance lengths. For food that was roughly half a mile away, the eastern honeybee would dance the longest, followed by the dwarf honeybee, with the giant honeybee doing the shortest dance.

"We also saw this when we compared our results with published data from other research groups," Kohl said.

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A subsequent examination of scientific literature showed that similar differences in dance duration-to-distance ratios are found in other bee species.

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