The bees learn their carefree dance from the older generation

about the episode

By now, most people have heard of waddle dance. If not, here’s a brief explanation. To tell each other where to find nutritious food, bees use a bobbing dance. Inside the hive, the bee with the information bobbles along the vertical wall in a figure-eight. The dance tells other bees about location, distance, and even the quality of the food.

But how does the bee know this is the way to send others on their way? And when will they learn how to do it? Researchers have now discovered that knowledge is passed on from generation to generation. It’s new evidence that social learning exists not only among humans, monkeys, rats, and naked birds, but also among insects.

It took some experimentation to find out. The researchers created special bee colonies for this, some containing only young bees they’d never seen another bee do the bobbing dance. If they reach the right age, they will try. They made quite a mess of it. The information they passed on to the rest of the colony was not entirely accurate.

Bees raised in a colony with perfect dancers did not have these problems. The little bees who danced somewhat messily improved as they got older, but they never learned the correct accent for “distance”. Or you can see that what they actually did was create an entirely new dialect.

It is believed that this difference in the tone of the bees is usually caused by the difference in the living environment. This would explain why it makes sense to continue passing on that local dialect, provided the colony does not move. In follow-up research, they now want to look at exactly how habitats shape bee language.

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Read more about the search here: Discovery of a learned complex social behavior in the ‘wiggle dance’ of bees.

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