Karl von Frisch lecture. Signals and flexibility in the dance communication of honeybees

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2003 Mar;189(3):165-74. doi: 10.1007/s00359-003-0398-y. Epub 2003 Mar 5.


Progress in understanding dance communication in honeybees is reviewed. The behaviour of both dancers and follower bees contain flexible and stereotypic elements. The transfer of specific information about direction and distance probably involves more than one sensory modality. The follower bees need to stay behind the dancer (within the angle of wagging) during at least one waggle run in order to perceive the specific information. Within this zone, a small stationary air-flow receiver (like the antenna of a follower bee) experiences a well-defined maximum when the abdomen of the wagging dancer passes by. Within 1 mm from the tip of the abdomen, the maximum may be caused by oscillating flows generated by the wagging motion. At other positions and distances (up to several millimetres from the dancer) the maximum is due to a spatially narrow jet air flow generated by the vibrating wings. The time pattern of these maxima is a function of the angular position of the receiver relative to the axis of the waggle run and thus a potential cue for direction. In addition to the narrow jet air flows, the dancers can generate a broad jet. The jets are not automatic by-products of wing vibration, since they can be switched on and off when the dancer adjusts the position of her wings.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Movements
  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Orientation
  • Vibration
  • Wings, Animal / physiology