dance language

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The ritualized behaviour by which a returned worker honey-bee (Apis species) communicates the quality and source of food to other workers. There are two dances, both performed in the darkness of the nest or hive, on the vertical wax comb. The ‘round’ dance conveys the presence and quality of a food source close to the nest; no directional information is given. It comprises runs in a small circle, with regular changes of direction. The more frequent the change of direction, the greater the profitability of the food source (i.e. the greater its calorific value). Workers of foraging age pay particular attention to the pollen carried by the dancer and constantly antennate her. Presumably they identify the source of the pollen by its characteristic scent and are then recruited to exploit the nearby source of food. The ‘waggle’ dance conveys a wider range of information, relating to the distance and direction of the food source, as well as to its quality. It refers to more distant sources of food than does the round dance, and often recruits workers to exploit flowers several kilometres from the nest. The waggle dance comprises runs in a flattened figure-of-eight pattern, with the waggle action performed in the straight run between the two rounds of the figure. The duration and vigour of the waggle are scaled to indicate distance, as is the loudness and duration of the buzzing associated with the waggle. Direction is indicated by the angle by which the straight run deviates from the vertical, the angle being equal to the angle between the direction of the food source and the sun as seen at that time from the nest entrance. Workers recruited by this dance will fly on a course that maintains this angle until they reach the food source, which they recognize by olfactory cues picked up earlier by antennation of the dancing worker in the hive. The dance language can be regarded as a ritualized enactment or ‘charade’ of the foraging flight made by the dancing worker. The language varies slightly between one geographic race of honey-bees and another, and thus resembles bird-song and human languages in having local dialects.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation — Zoology and Animal Sciences.

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