Bee Waggle Dance
Karl von Frisch an Austrian ethologist (animal behavior scientist), was studying the color vision of honey bees. He noticed that one bee would arrive at a food source, and then, later, many bees would arrive. He became interested in finding out how the bees communicated the location of the food source to foragers, and discovered that honey bees use dances. Van Frisch observed several distinct dances, such as the “round dance” to communicate the presence of nearby food sources, and the “waggle dance” to communicate the location of more distant food sources. In 1973, Karl von Frisch won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery. Today, research continues into understanding the details of the waggle dance, and what social factors might influence dance variations and information content. Professor Heather Mattila of Wellesley College in Massachusetts is one such researcher—a “bee whisperer,” who can watch a bee’s waggle dance and interpret it so that she can go to the floral patch herself. Mattila has found that more genetically diverse colonies are more likely to dance for longer, and that they send more foragers out to find food. This could help explain why honey bee queens mate with so many drones: it is a strategy to increase the genetic diversity of the colony. The honey bee’s waggle dance has not yet yielded all its secrets, however. For example, scientists have yet to figure out how bees effectively communicate using the waggle dance in the darkness of their hives. Evidence from Adrian Wenner’s work in California showed that dancing honey bees produce a distinctive sound. Wenner also studied the influence of olfactory cues from the environment, and signals from the Nasonov’s gland at the tip of the abdomen. Collectively, these lend support to his theory that dancing honey bees can communicate in the dark by using sounds and smells.