Honeybee “Warning Waggle” Is a Unique Form of Animal Communication

August 03, 2009 06:00 PM
by Haley A. Lovett
Scientists have known that honeybees can dance directions to food, but they recently found that bees can also communicate danger. Other animals have been found to express many complex emotions.

Bees Dance About Danger

A recent study by scientists at McMaster University in Canada found that honeybees “effectively steer naïve recruits away from dangerous flowers” by the way they “dance” directions, according to Animal Behavior.

Bees normally do a “waggle dance” upon returning to the hive from a successful hunt for food—they wiggle in a figure eight pattern gesturing the direction of the food source according to its position relative to the sun, LiveScience explains.

There are two types of bee dance, according to PBS’s “NOVA”; the waggle dance is used when food is farther than 35 yards away, and gives direction, and the “round dance” is used when food is closer to the hive, and helps give the other bees the scent of the nearby flower. The dance’s intensity increases with the abundance of the food source.
In this most recent study, however, scientists found that the bees waggled less when returning from a hunt where they encountered flowers in which the researchers had planted dead bees to signal danger, according to BBC. Thus, in addition to pointing out abundant food sources, the signaling bees help others avoid dangerous places by not directing them there.

Alerting bees of danger is becoming increasingly important to the survival of a hive, as bee populations worldwide are on the decline. Bees are listed as one of "Five Animals We Need To Survive." Some trends, such as urban beekeeping, may also help to encourage growth of the bee population.

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