The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance


In the ‘dance language’ of honeybees1,2, the dancer generates a specific, coded message that describes the direction and distance from the hive of a new food source, and this message is displaced in both space and time from the dancer's discovery of that source. Karl von Frisch concluded that bees ‘recruited’ by this dance used the information encoded in it to guide them directly to the remote food source, and this Nobel Prize-winning discovery revealed the most sophisticated example of non-primate communication that we know of3,4. In spite of some initial scepticism5,6,7,8,9, almost all biologists are now convinced that von Frisch was correct3,4,10,11,12,13,14, but what has hitherto been lacking is a quantitative description of how effectively recruits translate the code in the dance into flight to their destinations. Using harmonic radar15,16,17 to record the actual flight paths of recruited bees, we now provide that description.

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Figure 1: Flight paths of bees leaving the hive or other release points, after they had followed a waggle dance.
Figure 2: Circular mean of direction of travel as a function of distance along flight path.
Figure 3: Wind compensation.


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Our field studies depended on the contributions of E. Schüttler, S. Watzl, G. Bundrock, J. Stindt, S. Berger, S. Hülse, S. Brunke and T. Plümpe, and we are also grateful to A. Edwards for assistance with the reduction of the radar data and manuscript preparation. Data analysis and writing up by J.R.R. was supported by the Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Fellowship programme. The research was carried out with joint funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom (BBSRC). Rothamsted Research receives grant aided assistance from the BBSRC.

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Riley, J., Greggers, U., Smith, A. et al. The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance. Nature 435, 205–207 (2005).

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