Dancing to her own beat: honey bee foragers communicate via individually calibrated waggle dances

J Exp Biol. 2016 May 1;219(Pt 9):1287-9. doi: 10.1242/jeb.134874. Epub 2016 Mar 4.


Communication signals often vary between individuals, even when one expects selection to favour accuracy and precision, such as the honey bee waggle dance, where foragers communicate to nestmates the direction and distance to a resource. Although many studies have examined intra-dance variation, or the variation within a dance, less is known about inter-dance variation, or the variation between dances. This is particularly true for distance communication. Here, we trained individually marked bees from three colonies to forage at feeders of known distances and monitored their dances to determine individual communication variation. We found that each honey bee possesses her own calibration: individual duration-distance calibrations varied significantly in both slopes and intercepts. The variation may incur a cost for communication, such that a dancer and recruit may misunderstand the communicated distance by as much as 50%. Future work is needed to understand better the mechanisms and consequences of individual variation in communication.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; Calibration; Individual variation; Miscommunication; Waggle run.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Movement