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UCR entomologists report bee-dancing brings more food to honeybee colonies

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Dec. 13, 2002 -- Honeybees communicate by dancing. The dances tell worker bees where to find nectar. A UC Riverside study reports that under natural foraging conditions the communication of distance and direction in the dance language can increase the food collection of honeybee colonies. The study also confirms that bees use this directional information in locating the food sources advertised in the dance.

Based on work done in 2001 in the Agricultural Experiment Station at UC Riverside, P. Kirk Visscher, professor of entomology, and Gavin Sherman, former graduate student in the department of entomology, report their findings in a paper entitled "Honeybee colonies achieve fitness through dancing" in the journal Nature.

The honey bee "dance language," first described in the 1940s, reflects the distance and direction to the food source visited by the forager. A bee returning from a rich source of food will "dance" on the vertical comb surface by running in a circle. On each revolution, the bee will bisect the circle at an angle. The angle with respect to 12 o'clock represents the angle to fly with respect to the sun. If the bee ran from 6 to 12 o'clock (i.e., straight up), this would communicate to the other bees to fly directly towards the sun. As the bee dances, it also waggles its abdomen whilst crossing the circle. The number of waggles tells the other bees how far away from the beehive the nectar is. The more the waggles, the greater the distance to the nectar.

"The dance language is the most complex example of symbolic communication in any animal other than primates," said Visscher. "Our study is the first test of the adaptive value of the dance language. It provides insights that may be of use in manipulating foraging behavior of honeybees for pollination of crops."

There has been a long-simmering controversy over whether the direction and distance information in the dance is actually decoded by
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@citrus.ucr.edu
909-787-2645
University of California - Riverside
13-Dec-2002


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