Wired for Adventure

From the UK this year, scientists published in Biology Letters that bees frequently mess up their waggle-tail dance if they are describing nectar sources that require the bees to dance horizontally across the frame. Much better for them to dance straight up or down. Going horizontally, gravity tugs the dancers off course, thus throwing the listening foragers off course. This research discovery is the result of patiently watching 198 individual waggle dances and comparing the dances with the flight angle that bees were (apparently) trying to signal.  The scientists’ data also suggests that if the dancing bee can’t repeat the dance with the same angle, other bees in the hive laugh at her incompetence and then ignore the directions.  The message here for beekeepers might mean that we need to line up our hives so the hive, mid-day sun, and field of forage are on the same straight line. That would lead to an up-down dance and less confusion. Or, as a beekeeper, you might just want to find a spot surrounded in nectar sources in all directions so the bees can quit gabbing and just collect.

Finally, we learn that bees are just like you and I when it comes to thrill seeking adventure. In fact, the New York Times reported the news as “Brains of Bee Scouts Are Wired for Adventure“. I thought so. Dr Gene Robinson, a geneticist at the University of Illinois, wrote in the Journal Science that there are “massive differences in brain gene expressions between scouts and nonscouts.” The scientists found that by increasing certain chemicals in the bee’s brain, a timid bee would become a thrill-seeker. Time magazine reported the same story in a different manner: Bees Have Distinct Personalities, reporting that “some bees are thrill-seekers always looking for a new experience” – which can be satisfied by enlisting in the bee scouts.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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