Honey Bee Physical Communications

The Waggle Dance

Karl von Frish (Nobel prize 1973) showed that bees have colour vision and that their vision spectrum is shifted from the red end of the human visible spectrum into the ultraviolet, i.e. they can see uv as a distinct colour. We can’t. However, reds look black to them. He also demonstrated that when bees find a source of nectar, they recruit other bees in the hive to travel to the nectar source using a ‘waggle-dance’ which indicates the direction, quality and quantity of the source, i.e. they have a sophisticated communication system.

The bee dances in a figure eight pattern. The line of direction of the waggle element indicates the direction of the nectar source relative to the sun. The sun is always vertical to the comb.

Nectar Source Direction

A bee returning to the hive having discovered a rich nectar source tries to excite interest, i.e. recruit, other bees to forage in the same area. For a distant source the bee does a waggle dance in a straight line indicating the direction of the source relative to the Sun direction. This is done inside the hive on vertical honeycomb. Upwards on the comb is the Sun direction. Therefore a horizontally directed waggle dance, as shown above indicates a flight path to the source which is currently at right angles to and left of the Sun direction.
Here the bee is trying to recruit onlookers to forage in a direction which is 45 degrees to the right of the Sun direction as they leave the hive.

A simple round dance, on the other hand, indicates a nearby nectar/food source, i.e. no directional information is conveyed.

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