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The waggle dance is about sound too!

30. May, 2011
Description: The Carniolan honey bee (Apis mel...

Image via Wikipedia

When I was an undergraduate I first learned about the honey bee waggle dance. I found it absolutely fascinating and I still do. Imagine these tiny insects that most of us consider too “unintelligent” to do anything nearly as complicated as produce language. Yet there they are dancing away to tell the other bees where the food is at. They do it so well, too. It’s really impressive.

I suppose I never really thought of the mechanics of this communication much, because I’d always been under the impression that the communication was visual, but these guys say that sound is an important factor because some of the bees do this dance inside dark hives where they aren’t as easy to see.

Hasegawa Y, Ikeno H (2011) How Do Honeybees Attract Nestmates Using Waggle Dances in Dark and Noisy Hives? PLoS ONE 6(5): e19619. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019619

Apparently, when honey bees dance inside dark hives (depends on species), they produce a sound at around the same frequency as their flight sound. The sound comes from wing vibrations, which are a part of the waggle dance itself.  However, seeing as wing vibrations at the same frequency as flight could be a confusing signal, they also produce this sounds at a specific rhythm, which allows them to advertise that this is a waggle dance. The other bees hear this sound, and are then able to come and find out where the food is.

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