Dance Lessons! How to Dance Like a Bee?

How To Dance Like A Bee? 

According to the German naturalist and Nobel Prize winner Karl von Frisch, who published his first work on honey bee communication  in 1920, bees perform two types of dances to communicate the location of food sources. They are called the round dance and the wag-tail dance. His descriptions of the dances are quite detailed, which allows you, if you feel like it, to give it a go yourself.

Instructions for the Round Dance.
This is a dance that scout bees dance when they have found food within 100 metres distance from the hive. It goes like this:

*Run in small circles
*Rush clockwise and anti-clockwise with quick, short steps.
*Make sure you dance on one spot for at least a few seconds or minutes
*Then, move to another spot and dance again.
*Take a break every now and then, and share a sweet gift with your audience. Then continue to dance.

It is a very enticing dance; don’t be surprised if others decide to join you!

This is exactly what the other bees do. Some of them become so excited that they decide to join the dance before leaving the hive in search for the food source. Unfortunately, this dance doesn’t provide the bees with very detailed information of the exact location. The only thing they know is that it is close – but they don’t know the direction. Therefore, they will start to fly out in all directions looking for this amazing source of deliciousness. (This is also a reason why robbing in urban areas is serious, and can cause a nuisance to neighbours, see my previous post)

Instructions for the Wag-Tail Dance.
This is a dance that bees dance when they found food more than 100 metres away.  It goes like this:

*Run straight and waggle your abdomen
*Turn a half-circle and begin the straight run again, but:
*This time, start the path on which you will return on the opposite side so that your dance will become a figure-of-eight pattern.
*Take a break every now and then, and share a sweet gift with your audience. Then continue to dance.

The more dances, the better! It is an indicator of how many food sources have been found.

This dance is more specific. It communicates distance and direction of the food source.
*The longer your straight run is, the further away the food source;
*Remember that the bees dance on a vertical ground – their comb. This is handy to them, because it means that they can indicate the direction of the food source in relation to the position of the sun in the sky. If the food source is directly towards the sun, the bee will run directly upwards on the comb, and if the food is directly away from the sun, the bee will run straight down the comb. All other directions can be determined in a similar way.

The dance communicates a few other things. The dancers share a bit of nectar, which isn’t just a deed of generosity, but it communicates information of the scent and sugar content of this food source, that will aid the other bees in finding it. Also, the bees communicate the best time to go and find it: some plants don’t provide pollen or nectar all day long. The bees need to know when they can go, and this is communicated through the particular time the dance itself is performed. Finally, bees don’t just dance to tell the other where food is (nectar & pollen) but also where water is, as well as the directions to a new home in the swarming season.

But there are two problems: They have to take in consideration that as time ticks, the sun “moves” through the sky. Also, the sun is not always clearly visible.Where the dance so far has been quite understandable for humans, here comes the point of difference. We can’t quite grasp it: how do the bees overcome these issues?

  • Apparently, bees have an inbuilt “sun-compass” system that takes the movement of the sun in consideration as the dance is communicated to them. Also, their eyes are built to be able to see ultra violet light, even on cloudy days, so they can always decide where the sun is.

There are still a lot of mysterious around the dances of the bees. Not everyone agrees on these theories…

How do they do it? How do you do it? Come on and Wiggle Dance for me!


Information from Practical Beekeeping in New Zealand, p.56-57