The Waggle Dance – Round Dance and More – How Honey Bees Communicate

illustration of the waggle dance

The waggle dance is much more than it appears on the surface. Honeybees have many unusual ways to communicate with each other, most of which have remained a mystery up to recent times. Not least of which is the waggle dance. There are several forms of dance. • The Round Dance • Waggle Dance • Vibrating Dance • Shakey Dance to name a few.

When a foraging bee finds a food source, she must let the other bees know its location as soon as possible so that they can take advantage of it before bees from another hive or at least before it is gone. If the source is nearby, she will perform the relatively simple but energetic round dance, involving a series of rapid circles. This will signal the other bees to search in the vicinity of the hive. If the source is farther away, more information is needed, and the more complicated waggle dance-consisting of a figure eight with the loops separated by a straight run is performed.

That honeybees manage to understand such a complicated code is amazing, yet scientists have devised experiment after experiment that proves that bees actually do understand.

During the Waggle Dance, she stands facing in one direction, pointing to the food and waggles her abdomen back and forth; each waggle represents a certain distance. Then she turns in a figure-eight and waggles again. All the while she is conscious of the position of the sun outside. She repeats this dance over and over, and the other workers watch her carefully. What’s she’s doing is giving them a complicated set of directions based on where the sun was when she found the food: she’s saying, “when you leave the hive, turn this way and go this far, then you turn this way and go this far.”

Waggle dance is the most famous, there are many other dances that bees use to talk to each other.  The “round dance” is a circular dance that says “hey, there’s food near the hive!”, a “vibrating dance” that tells lazy workers “hey, get up and do something!”, and even a shaky, staggering dance tells other bees “somebody please clean me!”

Of course, bees cannot exchange information by talking to each other or writing down some words the way we do. They are even deaf and cannot hear any voices. It is surprising therefore that they work so well in groups. Many scientists have done a lot of research on the activities of bees and they found that bees are really very clever.

The bees have a language of their own, as mentioned above, they communicate certain information by dancing. Each colony of bees will have a queen who is responsible for laying the colony’s eggs. And there are a number of drones (males), but the majority of the bees are worker bees (females), who are further divided into nurse bees, house bees, guard bees and foragers. Most of the communication happens among the worker bees. Every day, some forager bees will fly out to find a food source, when they find one, they will collect all they can carry and fly back to the hive and pass the load to the house bees, who process it and store it. Then the forager will tell other foragers using of different types of dances.

And the total time of the dance will show the distance. The more times they dance, the further the source is. Sometimes, they will find a very good food source that is very rich; they will make the dance in higher speed. Otherwise, they will dance at lower speed. There is still much to learn, but we are getting there.