Decoding the honeybee dance could lead to healthier hives

Unraveling one of the most elaborate forms of non-human communication – the honeybee’s waggle dance – could help researchers better understand insect brains and make farming more environmentally friendly.

It’s part of a field of work looking at insect neurology which is helping to unravel the complexity of their brains.

Bees have evolved a unique, and ingenious, way to communicate with each other – the waggle dance. By shaking their abdomens in a particular way, a bee can tell others in its hive the specific direction and distance of a food source or a new site for a nest.

‘If nectar or pollen is in the direction of the sun, a bee will run a figure of eight that is orientated towards the top of the hive. If pollen is found 90 degrees from the sun they will point that way instead,’ explained Dr Elli Leadbeater, a bee expert from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of London, in the UK.

The longer the bees spend dancing corresponds to the better quality of a food source, while the more time spent on each figure eight represents the distance from the pollen or nectar.

Researchers now believe that decoding this information-packed dance further could reveal a link between bees’ brains and how the surrounding environment affects them. In a project called BeeDanceGap, Dr Leadbeater is working to identify the exact genes in the bee brain that play a role in helping the insects understand this waggle dance.

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