Bees' ability to sense of direction, smell, visual perception, solar tracking and internal clock perception have always attracted the attention of the scientific world. In 1927, Austrian animal behavior scientist Karl Ritter von Frish, working on the behavior of bees, created a work that earned him a NOBEL award.
In his book “Aus dem Leben der Bienen Karl, Austrian Karl Ritter von Frish searched for answers to questions about what bee dance is and why bees dance. Although Von Frish's question was not well understood in those years, repeated experiments and studies revealed so far that bees are the only living creatures using a dance language that is representative of symbolic communication language except humans.
What is Bee Dance? Why Do Bees Dance?
Before we begin to describe the representative language of bees, let's talk about why bees should be in communication.
An average of 50 to 80 thousand bees live in a beehive. These creatures are the most harmonious creatures in the nature. 80 thousand bees living under the same roof, makes decisions as a single brain and acts as a single body. Therefore, it is vital that these creatures communicate in order to meet their most basic needs such as nutrition and protection in a healthy way as in other living things.
The dance of bees is a kind of communication / information act and is related to nutrition. There is a huge division of labor in the beehive and some bees work in the hive, while others carry water, pollen, nectar and propolis to the hive. While water, nectar and pollen are used for feeding, the collection of propolis is more related to cleaning and preserving the beehive. We call these bees who are busy with non-hive works “field bees”.
As we have just mentioned, field bees collect water, pollen and nectar from the outside to meet the colony's nutritional needs. It is a demanding job to leave the hive at sunrise in the morning and find the most beautiful flowers and the sweetest nectar and bring them to the hive by carrying them on their hind legs.
So where are these sweet nectars and beautiful flowers? Imagine you are a small field bee living in the woods, at the mountain tops or in an ordinary garden. How big is the world to you? In this huge world there are millions of flowers and plants to collect nectars and pollen. If you don't have the ability to sense directions, it is not wise to try to collect nectar by flying randomly in this huge world.
Thanks to the communication between them, the field bees transfer the position of valuable plants and flowers to each other. While performing this in transfer, they exhibit some dance-like figures. It's called a bee dance.
The nectar sources previously discovered by the field bees are transferred the knowledge to the other bees when they return to the hive, and they direct their routes to the correct location and collect the food necessary for their survival.
There are basically two types of bee dancing, and the bees dance differently as they transfer the knowledge that nectar sources are away or nearby.
The field bees do round circle dance ken while sharing the knowledge that the flower sources are in a very close region. Round dance means that the sources are 50-100 meters away from the hive.
Realizing that the flower sources are close to 50-100 meters, the field bees return to the hive and draw circles in a clockwise and counterclockwise direction. In this way, other field bees understand that the sources are at a very close distance, but the round dance sources do not give information about the exact direction.
Bees also use advanced sense of smell features of theirs to determine the location of nearby sources. The bees carefully inspecting the scents of flowers smeared on the bees returning to the hive, have an idea of how far away the resources are.
Although Waggle Dance is more complex than round dance, it is more open in determining position and direction. The field bees perform waggle dance while transmitting the position information of sources further away from the hive.
The bee, who has the information that determines the position of the precious flowers, firstly settles on the honeycombs while sharing this information. Then he starts to circle by shaking the back of his body. (you can think of it as dogs wagging their tails when they get too excited)
The bee, which starts to draw circles by shaking the back of his body, turns the direction to the right or left and stops swinging and returns to the starting point to complete the circle drawn. When the bee returns to its starting point, it repeats the circle it has just drawn by shaking the back of its body. But this time it turns to the opposite direction of the circle it has just drawn. The bee repeats this dance and shares position information with the other bees in the hive.
So what does waggle dance mean? Waggle dance is a circle with shaky lines in some parts. The information trasmitting part of the dance is the shaky lines. The bee shakes the back of his body and transmits direction and distance information.
In the beehives, the honeycombs are positioned in the vertical direction considering gravity. By constructing combs in this way, bees use the sun in the sky to determine directions outside. How Does? If a field bee moves in the hive in the opposite direction to gravity, that is, dancing upwards; this means that other bees who want to go to the source fly to the sun.
So the direction of waggle dance gives information about which direction to fly outside the hive. The other field bees watching the dancing bee are turning from the sun looking at how much the bee turns. Of course, this direction does not always result with a 100% accuracy, but consequently, bees do not perform blind flights.
Distance information is also shared in waggle dance. The duration of the waggle part of the dance gives information about the distance of the source. With a rough calculation, a 1-second shake is believed to indicate 1 km.
This discovery by Karl von Frisch, 90 years ago, without the blessings of today's technology, was awarded the Nobel Prize and deserves great respect. The unknown and the curious about the world of bees still maintain their secret and we continue our research.