Connect with us


Bees can teach their young to dance Story-level





For a bee to be successful, it needs to shake its honey maker.

Scientists have long known that bees move their bodies so that their nest mates know the location of nearby nectar and pollen. Bees choreographs its twists and turns with clues about direction, distance, and even the delight of the flowers around the hive.

Now a new study in the journal Science shows that honey bees are not born entirely to dance. To perform their tail-wagging waltz well, young bees need to watch the adults on the dance floor.

“There are a lot of things that can go wrong with wiggle dancing,” said James C. Nieh, a professor of biological sciences at the University of California, San Diego, who co-wrote the paper published Thursday. “So it’s interesting that it’s beneficial for bees to learn from more experienced bees to reduce these mistakes.”

Several recent experiments show that bees and other insects are not simply genetically programmed to perform certain tasks. Instead, they are able to mimic each other, a behavior called “social learning” usually associated with larger-brained creatures such as monkeys and birds.

Bees may have small brains, but they work together to do powerful things with them.

“This is the social learning of a really complex communication system,” Nieh said. “One of the most complicated animal communication systems known.”

Honey bees shake to let their nest mates know the location of nearby food. New research shows that these dance moves are taught and not second nature. (Video: J.Nieh and Dong Shihao)

For their research, the team recorded and analyzed images of European honey bees in 10 colonies in the lab of Ken Tan, senior professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and another co-author on the paper. Tan has endured thousands of bee stings during his research career. “I love bees,” he chuckled. “For me, it’s nothing.”

Young bees in half the hives could watch the old ones do what bee biologists call the “wig dance.” In the other half, the young bees were deprived of experienced dance partners with which to practice.

To the human eye, bees dance at breakneck speed. To perform the movement, the insect shuffles forward while furiously moving its abdomen from side to side, “almost,” Nieh said, “which is usually a blur.” The bee turns around to do that turn over and over again, forming a figure-eight pattern on the comb.

The routine is encoded with lots of information. The angle in the middle of the figure eight tells foraging bees which direction to fly. More reps means richer food. And the more a bee moves, the further away the food is.

Bees about 10 days old without experienced dance partners performed the wiggle dance more inconsistently than their 10-day-old counterparts in hives with experienced bees, the study found. Over time, the bees got better at conveying the direction of nearby food, but they could never get the dance moves to communicate distance quite right.

“The wiggle dance is thought to be one of the most remarkable innovations in animal communication: a symbolic language in an insect. But it was previously dismissed as ‘just inborn’ and therefore, by many people’s understanding, less impressive,” Lars Chittka, a sensory and behavioral ecologist at Queen Mary University of London, wrote in an email.

But this new research “opens up a whole new perspective,” said Chittka, who was not involved in the study.

“Cultural diffusion might have been how some elements of these behaviors first emerged,” he said.

Bees work so well together (some scientists call hives “superorganisms”) that people have long thought they had a sophisticated way of communicating.

Aristotle watched the wiggle dance and noted that the bees kept returning to the same flowers. In 1973, the Austrian biologist Karl von Frisch won a nobel prize partly by translating the meaning of the dance.

More recently, researchers have trained bees to pull a rope and even to teach each other to play a miniature soccer game. (The goal: to pull a small ball to the center of a platform.)

Today, however, there is a threat to the dance party. Tan and Nieh previous investigation shows that widely used pesticides can impair pollinators’ ability to learn.

After exposure to the poisons, “the wiggle dance changed,” Tan said. “They have more bugs.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2023 Story Level Media.