Honey bees are known to be natural scavengers and calculated gatherers. They are vital pollinators that many species rely on globally. Many of us, however, view these insects as somewhat mindless, drawn by their senses and instinct alone.
This, of course, is far from the truth.
Not only do honey bees live in a rigidly hierarchical system with different tasks and gender roles in the hive, they have a pretty complicated language which tells each other where to scavenge and gather pollen. This language is called the waggle dance.
When a bee has returned after finding pollen, it will land on the hive and shake is abdomen to get the attention of the others. Once this is accomplished, they will waggle in a straight line for a certain distance, loop around, waggle, and loop the opposite way.
Nonsensical bee movement? Not exactly.
Researchers have discovered that the length of the waggle line (curiously almost exactly seconds of waggle to kilometers) shows where the pollen is. Using the sun as a reference like a compass, the angle of this waggle line indicates the direction to where the source of pollen lies.
Essentially, by repeating this dance, the worker bees teach the others what direction and how far their new source of food is. And they are hauntingly accurate. Researchers have watched fellow bees follow this calculated dance and find their stash without qualms. Pretty crazy, right?
It gets crazier.
Experienced worker bees may recognize the scent of a certain type of pollen, based on the remnants on the waggler’s feet. Further, the number of times they do the waggle dance may indicate the level of danger it is to get to the pollen. For example, the fewer the dance cycles the more dangerous the pollen location. Thus, only the most experienced workers head out.
Finally, studying bees across the globe (say European honey bees versus Asian honey bees for example) show that they do the dance slightly differently, utilizing slight changes in the methods to display where the pollen is. In other words, the waggle dance has regional dialects.
So the next time you see a bee and go warn a friend, just remember that they might return to the hive and do the exact same thing about you.
Featured image via Pixabay