Bees Decide

In Spring, some honey bee colonies will swarm. Worker bees will leave the hive with their queen in search of a new home. This honey bee swarm will rest in a temporary location while scouts locate a suitable new home for the colony. What happens when scouts find more than one suitable location? How does the colony know which one to choose? This question is the subject of research published in Science magazine (Science 335, 108 (2012)).

Scouts returning to a swarm will communicate the location of a new nesting site by making a waggle dance. The waggle dance indicates the distance and direction to the location. As each site is discovered, the scouts will return and perform a waggle dance. This could lead to confusion as scouts from competing nesting sites will each give different directions. This issue is resolved by another bee behavior, the “Stop Dancing” signal. Stop Dancing consists of a head butt and a short vibration to the side of the waggle dancer. Multiple Stop Dancing signals will discourage the Waggle Dancer.

Honey Bee

In the case of competing locations for the swarm, each group of scouts will return to perform a waggle dance, and also send stop signals to dancers from the competing location. Once scouts from one location become more numerous, their waggle dances will recruit more visitors to their own site and their stop signals will quiet the scouts from the competing site. This reduces the two competing signals to a single clear signal and the swarm will relocate to its new home.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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