A study done by the team of Tan Ken, a researcher at the Xi Shuang Ban Na Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and James Nieh, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, found that honey bees need to learn the bee dance from adult bees from a young age to send messages accurately. What adults teach young bees has a significant effect on them. The results were written up as the cover story for the 10th issue of the international journal Science.
The honey bee is considered a symbol of “hard work and cooperation” and is a highly social species. There is a clear division of labor in a bee colony. The queen is in charge of laying eggs, the male is in order of mating with the queen, and the worker bees are in charge of scouting, collecting, and guarding.
The best way for bees to divide tasks is to talk to each other in their language and dance. In particular, bees in the hive receive information about the “8” dance from their companions and eventually locate food. The distance, direction, and quality of the food are shown by the length, angle, and number of swings in the “8” dance.
“It’s interesting that sometimes the bees that collected food never left the nest, but they could still read their friends’ dances and find the food. This shows that the dance tells a lot of information.” Tan Ken, a researcher at the Xi Shuang Ban Na Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the paper’s corresponding author, said this.
For the experiment, the scientists first trained a group of young bees and bees ready to leave the nest. They did this by marking each bee as it went to a feeder 150 meters from the hive. When they returned to the nest and danced in front of a video camera, information was gathered and analyzed about the dance’s length, angle, and number of swings.
When different dance indices of young colonies and natural colonies of bees the same age were compared, it was found that the young colonies’ dances had a lot of flaws and mistakes. With more experience, the errors in the dance angle (which shows direction) got better. Still, the mistakes in the dance time (which shows distance) never got better. In other words, social learning is a big part of how the bee’s “dance language” gets passed down. A lack of early childhood education leads to the developing of a new “dialect” of bee dance that will last for life.
This study gives scientists important information about how and where human and animal language came from. The study also found, for the first time, that honey bees learn their dance language from each other and that watching older bees dance helps young bees dance more accurately. The study also shows that invertebrates with tiny brains can “teach by example” and that bees’ social success is built on communication and learning from each other.