Tech & Science

Bees learn waggle dance moves with help from teachers

Loot-shaking worker bees lure fellow worker bees to the pollen in a form of communication called the “waggle dance.”

And now scientists have discovered that bees hone these movements when they are young. If you miss that chance, you’ll make more dance mistakes and less accurate maps.

The waggle dance is difficult to perform and failure can cause the foraging bees to fly in the wrong direction. However, in the life of young worker bees, there is an important learning stage about eight days after birth, just before they become full-fledged foragers, which helps them perfect their dance.

As the older workers return to their hives and do a hand-waving dance, the novice workers watch them closely. In doing so, inexperienced bees learn to perform dances that generate a more accurate map to their next meal.

Genetics play a role in the honeybee dance, and previous research has shown that some of the details of the distance-conveying dance are species-specific.

But new findings show that honeybee dance language isn’t entirely innate, but is shaped in part by social learning, scientists reported Thursday in the journal. Chemistry.

They also found that if novice workers were deprived of the opportunity to learn from more experienced bees, they produced sloppier dances and made more errors. Some aspects have improved over time, while other nuances have been completely lost.

Communication in the waggle dance is complicated, and is made even more complicated by the fact that the bees’ work must take place on a vertical, irregular, honeycomb-like stage with no light, says study co-author Biology at the University of California, San Diego. Professor of Science James Nieh said.

“As a waggle dancer, you lunge forward across this perforated open dance floor at about one body length per second,” says Nieh.

“You’re surrounded by hundreds and thousands of bees and you have to push them away. You’re in complete darkness.” Colony bees follow the dance through physical contact with the dancers, he says. added.

Despite the challenges, bees have to subtly communicate a lot of information using their bodies. Dancers follow a straight line called a “waggle run”, alternating between left and right curves to return to the starting point. She does this repeatedly to create a figure eight. The length of the rump shake tells hive mates how far away the food is, and the angle of the rump relative to the centerline indicates the direction to the food source.

What if young bees never had the chance to see other bees dance? To find out, researchers created five colonies in which all bees were the same age and had no experienced elders. When the bees were old enough to forage, the authors of the study recorded the bees’ dances and compared them with those of five control colonies containing adults of different ages.

“They could all dance,” said Nieh. “But the more experienced dancers, the bees who were able to keep up with the teacher, danced much better.”

In early dances, bees that had no guidance danced with more errors in encoding the directional angles and distances conveyed by vertical waggle runs.

There was some improvement in performance by the time the bees reached full maturity at 20 days of age and became experienced foragers. Their dances are more orderly and less misdirected. “But we weren’t able to tell the distance accurately,” he says. Once these mistakes were coded into the dance, unsupervised bees repeated the mistakes for the rest of their lives.

“What surprised me the most is that this represents a new level of complexity in communicating information within a bee colony,” says Paul Siefert, a bee researcher who was not involved in the study. told CNN in an email.

“While previously waggle dancing was thought to be defined at best by genetics and mechanical ability, we now know that dance learning has a social component,” Goethe University, Germany Frankfurt.

The findings also raise questions about the possible role of social learning in other interactions within honeybee colonies, such as hygienic behavior against the bee-targeting parasite Varroa mites.

Another question scientists hope to answer is whether social learning shapes changes in the colony’s waggle dance, and updates on ecological changes are passed on to young bees through the waggle of elders. No matter, said Mr. Nieh.

“We will see how quickly they can adapt to local conditions and convey that information, and actually test this hypothesis that distance encoding reflects habitat.”

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