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The Honeybee Waggle

Figure-8 dance leads worker bees to nectar sources

Birds chirp, dogs bark, frogs croak, fish grunt and click. Each animal has its own unique way of communicating. Honeybees do, too. It’s called the “waggle.”

Worker bees travel up to two miles from their hives in search of nectar sources like clover, wildflowers, fruits, etc. When a honeybee discovers an abundant source of nectar, it hustles back to the hive to tell the thousands of other honey-makers where to find it. By dancing.

With a few simple moves, the honeybee can relay the direction of the nectar source, how bountiful it is and how far the bees need to travel to get to it. Once she gets the attention of her hive mates – by letting them sample the pollen and nectar she gathered at the source – the dance begins.

Gif of an animated honeybee doing the waggle dance.

Shake your honey-maker

If the nectar source is close – within 300 feet of the hive – the worker bee will perform a round waggle dance. It’s a simple routine in which she circles two to three times while her audience watches. The message is simple: Food is nearby.

Once that message is delivered, worker bees set out to find it themselves. They know it’s close and they know the scent and taste, having sampled it from their dancing colleague.

If the nectar source is farther from the hive, the honeybee will perform a more elaborate figure-eight waggle dance. This routine – more of a skillful tango versus a simple two-step – gives a more exact location, with the direction and duration of the waggle correlating with the direction and distance from the hive.

The honey-making dancer waggles in semi-circles, shaking her “booty” (her abdomen) in the direction of the food source. The angle of the dance also informs her onlookers where the food is, relative to the sun. The longer she shakes her body in the general direction, the longer the trek will be.

Need a visual? Click on the video above to see an animation of a honeybee waggle dance. 

Categories: Honey Stories

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