Bees capable of learning dance languages

Bees capable of learning dance languages


"Honeybees gauge the distance flown to a food source using a 'visual odometer' that logs the objects that flow past their vision as they fly," explains Shaowu Zhang, chief investigator at A.R.C. Centre of Excellence in Vision Science and Australian National University (ANU).

"On their return to the hive they transfer this information to their hive-mates using a tail-waggle dance, where the speed and pattern of the beats indicates the distance and direction of the food."

However different species of honey bee use different dances to signal the location of their food, and scientists have long debated whether the different species of honeybee were 'speaking' a different dialect, in other words logging the visual information differently - or simply using different dance styles to convey the same data.

"We also wanted to find out whether different species of honeybee can learn from, and communicate with, one another," Zhang says.

With colleagues, the team bred a mixed-species bee colony at Zhangzhou, in Fujian province of China, composed of the Asiatic bee Apis cerana cerana (Acc), and the European bee Apis mellifera ligustica (Aml).

The scientists then used video cameras to record and analyse how the "multicultural" bee colony behaved.

The mixed colony consisted of an Asian queen bee, and Asian and European workers. The team was pleasantly surprised how harmoniously the bees were able to coexist in the mixed-species colonies, said an A.R.C. Centre release.

"We were often able to observe both species of foragers dance in the mixed colony and saw the other species of bees following the dancing bee," says Zhang.

"We concluded that Asian and European honeybees can learn to understand one another," says Zhang.

These findings have been published in PLOS ONE.

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