How Do Bees Communicate?
Bees have a highly developed communication system that allows them to coordinate and execute complex social behaviors within their colonies. Communication is critical for bees because they must work together to gather food, care for young, and protect the colony from predators and environmental threats. Bees use a variety of methods to communicate with each other, including visual signals, scents, and touch.
The following article from thedailyECO explains how do bees communicate and why bee communication is so important for the survival of the hive.
Roles of bees in a hive
Before we look at how bees communicate, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the different roles bees play in a hive.
Honey bees are primarily divided into three types. The different roles bees play within the hive are assigned based on factors such as age, gender, and physical abilities.
The queen bee is the only reproductive female in the hive. Her main task is to lay eggs from which new bees hatch. She is the largest bee in the hive and can lay up to 1,500 eggs per day. The queen bee releases pheromones that regulate the behavior of other bees in the hive, including suppressing the development of ovaries in worker bees.
Drone bees are male bees whose main task is to mate with the queen bee. They are larger than worker bees, but have no spines. Drones are usually expelled from the hive during the winter months, when resources are scarce. They do not perform any other tasks in the hive.
Worker bees are non-reproductive female bees that make up the majority of the hive population. Their tasks depend on their age. Young worker bees start out as nurse bees, taking care of developing larvae and cleaning the hive. As they grow older, they become foragers, collecting nectar and pollen from flowers and returning them to the hive. They also build the combs, protect the hive from predators, and regulate the temperature and humidity in the hive. Worker bees have spines that they use to defend the hive.
Why do bees communicate?
As we have seen in the previous section, the division of labor among bees is highly organized and efficient. The hive functions like a superorganism in which each bee plays an important role in the survival and success of the colony.
Communication is essential for bees to maintain the integrity and functionality of the hive. Bees need to communicate with each other to coordinate their behavior and perform their collective tasks effectively. For example, nurse bees need to communicate with each other to provide for the brood, while forager bees need to communicate the location of food sources to other bees.
Communicating food sources and coordinating activities within the hive are not the only reasons bees communicate. They also convey information about the safety of the hive. Bees must communicate with each other to defend the hive against predators and other threats. For example, they emit an alarm pheromone when the hive is attacked, which signals the other bees to come and defend the hive.
Furthermore, when a hive becomes too crowded, bees swarm out and leave to form a new colony. The bees must communicate with each other to coordinate this behavior. They choose a new location for the colony and work together to start a new hive.
Do not miss this other article where we explain if bees die after stinging someone.
What is the dance of bees?
E. Spitzner in 1788 observed and identified a pattern in the behavior of honeybees when they returned to the hive loaded with food. This pattern was later explained by other experts and identified as part of the communication network of these pollinators. Based on these pioneering studies, Karl von Frisch described the language of bees, their orientation methods, and their sensory organs in the 20th century (1920-1982).
In his studies, von Frisch explained the different types of dances that bees perform to indicate to other workers in the hive which food sources they have found. Through these dances, bees communicate to convey data about the direction, distance, and quality of food. For his pioneering work in the field of animal communication, von Frisch was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973.
When scout bees return to the hive after finding a food source, they perform a dance to communicate the direction and distance of the food source to other bees. The dance consists of a figure-eight pattern.
When the food source is more than 100 meters away, the bees perform the dance in a circle, moving left to right and right to left to indicate the direction of the food source. The intensity and duration of the dance convey how abundant the food source is.
For longer distances, the bees perform the dance in a semicircle, tracing an imaginary figure-eight. To do this, they make a semicircle in one direction, then return to the starting point in a straight line. From there, they make another semicircle in the opposite direction until they complete the figure-eight pattern.
During the straight line portion of the dance, the bees rapidly move their abdomen, which is called the dance of the abdomen or tail. The movement produces sounds ranging from 240 to 260 Hz and 90 to 110 dB, which are created by the movement of their wings.
To indicate the direction of the food source, bees use the position of the sun as a reference point. When the hive is in a horizontal position, bees adjust the angle of the waggle run relative to gravity, rather than relative to the sun.
Other ways bees communicate
Besides the bee dance, bees communicate with each other using other methods, such as:
Bees use tactile communication to exchange information on the quality of the food source. When a forager bee returns to the hive with nectar, it not only performs the dance mentioned in the section, but also regurgitates the nectar to another bee. This allows the other bee to taste the nectar and determine its quality, so it knows whether it is worth seeking out that particular food source.
Pheromones are chemical signals released by bees to indicate various things, such as the location of food sources, the presence of predators, or the need for more workers.
Bees also communicate through vibrations. For example, when a queen bee needs to signal to worker bees that she is healthy and active, she makes a certain buzzing sound by vibrating her wings. This sound can be heard throughout the hive and reassures the worker bees that the queen is present and active.
If you want to know more about bees, do not miss the video we leave you below, where we explain in more detail the life cycle of bees.
If you want to read similar articles to How Do Bees Communicate?, we recommend you visit our Facts about animals category.
- Menizabal, FM (2005). bees . Editorial Albatross.
- Palomar, JMA (1990). The communication system of bees. Didactics. Language and Literature , 2 , 19.
- UCO. Biology of Apis mellifera. Queen, workers and drones. Retrieved from: https://www.uco.es/dptos/zoologia/Apicultura/Biologia_abejas/Biologia_Apis_mellifera.html