September 18th, 2009

Bees are surprisingly like people

The waggle dance conveys less information to bees than to scientists

In one study, Grüter and his colleague Walter Farina of the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina found that among bees that attend to a dance, 93 per cent ignore the instructions and head to a food source they already know about (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol 275, p 1321). Similarly, bees often seem unable to follow the instructions. Some watch more than 50 runs and make several sorties out of the hive but never find the food.

The waggle dance also turns out to be much less important to foraging success than has been suggested. Hives in which the honeycombs are laid horizontally, preventing the bees from indicating direction properly, don't fare any worse than others, except when natural food sources are severely depleted.

"I taught them, but they didn't learn it", says prominent waggle dancer.