Wake Up: The DVAV Signal
Bees might seem to be the chattiest of animals (although I have had many deep-and-meaningfuls with our yellow friends). However, they are constantly communicating in ways that are unique and highly specialised. We recently looked at a number of dance moves, known to bees, that help communicate the exact location and type of food for their colony. While the rest of us are spending our weekends drunkenly cutting shapes at parties, clubs and living rooms around the country, the smooth moves known only to bees are both practical and impressive!
But behind these dances is another kind of signalling that is vital to the survival of honeybees. This process is known as dorso-ventral abdominal vibration (DVAV) signal. According to scientists from the Nottingham Trent University, the DVAV signal is performed as an exchange from one bee to another. A bee does this by gripping onto the honeycomb with its hind legs, and to the other bee with its middle and front legs; as it vigorously shakes its abdomen in the direction of the honey comb for 0.9 to 1.5 seconds, it produces vibrations at 10 to 22 Hz. The receiving bee stays still during this process, and only moves to respond to the shaker-bee. Research has also shown that this signal can actually be carried out on multiple bees at a time, and sent into the honeycomb itself; in one form of this known as “shaking runs”, bees roam over large areas of the hive and produce these signals from minutes at a time, to over an hour!
This form of signal also provides some very useful indicators of other aspects of life within the colony. For example, it has been estimated that only 13% of worker bees actually ever carry out this vibratory activity, but when they do it is intense; in effect this has separated the colony into two groups, foragers and swarmers. And within these groups, it is the older foragers that are thought to carry out these signals, although scientists have found that bees as young as two days of age can carry out the process. The process of communication also changes over time, as bees tend to signal in this manner when they first find a food source, but the communication then moves onto waggle dancing.
From this information we can see why DVAV signalling is also known as the honeybee “wake-up call”, as it tells other bees to prepare for an increase in their work load. Just another fascinating way that bees keep their superorganism running smoothly!