A University of Sussex researcher has spent three years intricately recording and decoding communications between honey bees.

Dr Margaret Couvillon has been ‘eavesdropping’ on bees to discover the “waggle runs” that female forager bees use to explain the distance and direction of flowers away from the hive.

Observation hives with glass walls allow researchers to record the activities of bees without affecting their natural behaviour.

Both the angle that the dance is performed at and the duration of the waggle provide information to other foragers about where they can find the best resources.

Dr Couvillon explained that foragers repeat these “waggles” to signify the quality of a resource. She explained that “for a really good resource she’ll repeat it 70 to 100 times.”

Couvillon has discovered that bees do not always perform these dances perfectly, particularly when dancing on the horizontal face of the hive.

Studying the footage showed that bees dancing vertically on the hive made few errors. However, Dr Couvillon said, “They have a hard time when they’re dancing horizontally – the angles that they dance repeatedly are very different.”

She has suggested that the inconsistencies could be attributed to gravity: “If you were a rock climber and I asked you to get something to your right, at 90 degrees, it would be more difficult than getting something straight ahead of you.”
Dancing horizontally simply requires more effort.

Preliminary data from one of Couvillon’s colleagues also suggests that when a bee has more trouble repeating an angle clearly, her nest mates may ignore her.

The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association have also claimed this week that the black honeybee, feared to have died out in all but the remote reaches of northern Britain, has been found in north Wales, east Anglia and as far south as West Sussex.

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Decoding bee communication

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