Honeybee dances communicate distances measured by optic flow

Nature. 2001 May 31;411(6837):581-3. doi: 10.1038/35079072.


In honeybees, employed foragers recruit unemployed hive mates to food sources by dances from which a human observer can read the distance and direction of the food source. When foragers collect food in a short, narrow tunnel, they dance as if the food source were much farther away. Dancers gauge distance by retinal image flow on the way to their destination. Their visually driven odometer misreads distance because the close tunnel walls increase optic flow. We examined how hive mates interpret these dances. Here we show that recruited bees search outside in the direction of the tunnel at exaggerated distances and not inside the tunnel where the foragers come from. Thus, dances must convey information about the direction of the food source and the total amount of image motion en route to the food source, but they do not convey information about absolute distances. We also found that perceived distances on various outdoor routes from the same hive could be considerably different. Navigational errors are avoided as recruits and dancers tend to fly in the same direction. Reported racial differences in honeybee dances could have arisen merely from differences in the environments in which these bees flew.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Visual Pathways
  • Visual Perception / physiology