How do bees communicate? It’s un-BEE-lievable!
Bees are intelligent, and like other intelligent creatures they communicate with one another. Different creatures communicate differently, for instance we use words and dolphins use clicks, but bees use three different ways to talk to each other.
The honey bee (genus Apis) has only eight surviving species that are recognized today, with a total of 43 subspecies. They represent only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees.
A simple way bees communicate is through touch. They touch their antennae to identify each other and they use their feet to measure the size of wax comb cells – no wonder bees are quite particular in keeping their antennae clean!
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term “bumblebee” (genus Bombus) was first recorded in the 1530 work Lesclarcissement by John Palsgrave, “I bomme, as a bombyll bee dothe.“
Bees also communicate through pheromones… but what are pheromones? “A pheromone is any endogenous (created inside the body) chemical secreted in minute amounts by an organism in order to elicit a particular reaction from another organism of the same species.” – The Britannica.
Bees use pheromones all the time. The queen, the drones, the workers and even the wax combs (yes, the wax combs) are in constant communication through pheromones. It allows bees to communicate information quickly and seamlessly to large groups, which is perfect when you think that a hive can house hundreds of bees. Pheromones are released when a mass response is required, for instance the ‘alarm’ pheromone when the hive is in danger. Bees small the pheromones through their antennae allowing them to quickly understand the message the pheromone is giving.
The carpenter bee, (genus Xylocopa), gets its common name from their nesting behaviour. Nearly all species burrow into hard plant material, like dead wood or bamboo.
That’s right, they DANCE! In 1940 Karl von Frisch discovered that bees perform a special dance, which he named the waggle dance, to communicate the location of pollen and nectar. The dance is in a figure eight, the angle of which communicates the direction of the food source in relation to the sun. The speed of the waggle of the bee’s abdomen while dancing communicates the distance to the food source from the hive. The hive “votes” on the most viable site by the number of bees joining in the dance and the intensity of the dancing itself. In the case of selecting a new hive site, the bees will only relocate when a unanimous decision has been reached.
Another dance they perform is the round dance and this is to communicate the location of food that is close to the hive. It doesn’t tell the direction but it does say whether the food source is within 100 meters / 328 feet.
Bees are highly sophisticated and the way they communicate within the hive is amazing, especially when you consider it is mostly done in the dark. Their seamless communication has been compared to that of a central nervous system – constantly communicating and monitoring everything.
As seen on CBeebies. Season 3 coming soon…
This month OKIDO magazine is all about FLOWERS AND BEES!
Learn how bees help plants grow, create a beehive and flower painting, make some spiced honey cakes and more!