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The Incredible Honey Bee...What a Communicator and Navigator

Updated on March 17, 2015

The honey bee has an incredible sense of communication. They communicate by dancing in the hive. Specifically, scout bees will locate nectar, sugar, and water sources and will return to the hive to tell the rest of the bees around them how to get to the source. There have been many tests to establish exactly what the different parts of the dance (known as the waggle dance) means.
Generally the bees will enter the hive and form a straight run then go around in circles all the while "waggling". The length of the straight run and the number of circles the bee makes communicates to the bees around her. Several studies prove that the bees can communicate the type, location, and distance of the commodity that they have found. The straight run will tell the others the direction of the commodity and the circles will tell the distance. The length of the straight run will show the direction and the number of circles will tell how far away the source is.
In one study several plates of sugar water where placed in various locations. The scout bees were marked by the researchers with various symbols as they visited the plates. One plate was designated by a + sign and each scout was marked accordingly. A second plate and bees were marked with a -, and the third set with a dot. When the scouts returned to the hive and danced, the researchers marked the bees in the area around the scout according to the mark on the scout. Remarkably, only bees with a dot came to the plate with a dot; the ones with + to the + plate and the - bees came to the - plate.
Bees navigate according to the sun. They will communicate to other bees the location of the commodity's location in proportion to the sun. Similar to how we would tell someone to get to a place. I.e. "go north down the street and the store is 200 feet to the left of the post office." The post office here is like the sun and the store is the flower. Bees can even navigate on a cloudy day because they use polarized light that is seen with their compound eyes.
Bees are more attracted to movement. This is called the "flicker effect". That is, they prefer movement and complicated flower arrangements. One study showed where bees could even be trained to find food on a special card. The more complicated design was preferred by the bees.
Bees also communicate by scent. That is, by pheromones. That will be discussed in another blog since there is more to understand about bees before this would make sense.


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