Bees, Memories and Waggle Dance

Honey collected by a bee is pure, natural and not like the available adulterated honey in the markets today. They are economically sensitive foragers and prefer more rewarding food sources, such as those with higher sugar concentration.

But, how do honey bees share information about food availability with their other companion bees or community? 

No, they don’t talk about which supermarkets sell the best vegetables nor they talk about the restaurant selling the tastiest food!

They share information by dancing – waggle dance (a gradual transition between the round dance and figure of eight-shape dance for a short and long-distance food)

This dance integrates the information about the foraging site. It includes details about distance and required energy to reach the site through waggle dance. The pattern of the dance changes with the change in distance of foraging site.

A research team of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, has studied how the bee’s changes dance formation during the changing in distance of foraging site. For this, the research team trained a group of, Apis mellifera, honey bees for the forage food placed at 300 meters away from the hive. All the honey bees formed a waggle dance pattern according to 300 meters forage food. Now the food shifted to 400 meters, then researchers observed that most of the bees visited multiple trips to the new forage food site to update their dance pattern.

At the second time, the foraging distance is extended and shortened to check the time taken for changing dance pattern.  For this, the food shifted from the original distance 300 meters to 200 meters and then back to 300 meters. Due to the shifting of the food site the bees were not able to update their dance pattern in the second shift. 

“One must assume that the bees when arriving at the new feeder site, know the distance between the feeder and the hive. If not, they will not be able to find the way back. The occurrence of intermediate dance duration indicates that the bees use the memory of both distances when they update the dance information,” says Dr Axel Brockmann, one of the authors.

Eventually, the researchers came to the conclusion that while updating dance patterns, the bees also update their memory, due to which they visit the new foraging site multiple times. This study could be the first step to explore the details of bees memory formation during the waggle dance.

Reference : Journal of Experimental Biology 2019 222: jeb195099 doi: 10.1242/jeb.195099 Published 13 June 2019

Written by Kartikay Shukla 

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