The Dance Language and

Orientation of Bees

Excerpt from Karl von Frisch, 1967. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. pp 4-5.

Karl von Frisch was a German scientist who was interested in how honey bees communicated with one another. There were many possibilities: sound, smell, visual cues, and combinations of these.

When I wished to start an experiment I would set out on a table in the open a sheet of cardboard with some honey on it. As a rule this was found after a few hours by one bee. Then their number would grow swiftly to dozens, or even to hundreds. A further phenomenon too spoke emphatically in favor of communication among the hivemates. I trained bees to collect from a dish filled with sugar water. When the feeding dish had been emptied I paused in order to limit the number of collectors. At first large numbers of bees swarmed about the empty dish, but gradually they dispersed and after about 20 min they visited only sporadically. But if one of these now found the dish refilled, the others reappeared in swift succession after her return home.

I was curious to know how the news was spread about there at home, and built an observation hive with glass windows...In the spring of 1919 I set it up..., erected a feeding station beside it, and marked the forager bees with a spot of red pigment on the thorax. After a pause in the offering of food, they would sit among the others on the comb near the hive entrance.

The next scout found the dish refilled. It was a fascinating spectacle when after her return home she performed a round dance, in which the red -spotted bees sitting nearby showed lively interest. They tripped along after the dancer, and then left the hive to hasten to the feeding station. Soon it became apparent that the circular running is a dance of invitation, which not only recalls the former collecting group to action but also recruits new members to strengthen the working party... With pollen collectors that were returning home with filled pollen baskets from natural sources of provisions, I saw another form of dance, the tail-wagging dance, and fell into the error of thinking that the round dance was performed when sugar water or nectar was collected and the tail-wagging dance after pollen

collecting (v. Frisch 1923). Henkel (1938) refuted this. Under natural condi tions he observed with nectar collectors tail-wagging dances that did not differ in form from pollen collectors, and explained the round dances of the sugar -water collectors as due merely to the unnatural abundance of food at my artificial feeding stations. On the basis of new experiments I at first held to my conception (1942). Today we know that Henkel was right when he described tail-wagging dances performed by collectors of nectar, but I was right too in describing their performance of round dances. I was wrong when I regarded the round dances as dependent on the gathering of nectar, and he was wrong in ascribing them to the abundance of food. The clarification came when I gave my co-worker Ruth Beutler a piece of bad advice. She was running a feeding station with the odor of thyme 500 m away from a beehive and wanted to have the bees gather quickly around a sugar-water dish at a place nearer the hive. I advised her to feed them well at the 500-m station and also put out a sugar-water dish with thyme fragrance at the desired place near the hive. The hivemates would be stimulated by the round dances of bees harvesting from the distant point to search first nearby around the hive and would necessarily find the new feeding dish quickly. There was no success. Did the distance of the feeding place influence the manner of dancing?

Experiments directed to this point showed in fact that round dances were performed with sources of food nearby, tail-wagging dances with more distant ones, by collectors of nectar just as by collectors of pollen, and that the tail -wagging dances announced also the direction and distance of the goal. The mistake had come from my setting up the artificial feeding station with its sugar water in the immediate neighborhood of the hive, in order to keep both feeding station and comb in view, whereas the pollen collectors were coming from natural, more distant sources. Under these conditions there were only round dances among the bees collecting sugar water, and only tail wagging dances among the pollen collectors...Probably bad advice has rarely been so nobly rewarded."