Research

Bees

Evolution of the dance language

Honeybees (Apis) convey vectorial information to nestmates via a symbolic language: the waggle dance. At first sight, this unique ability to tell nestmates where to find profitable resources seems to allow a honeybee colony to rapidly exploit food sources discovered. Upon a closer look however, conveying vectorial information is time consuming and not very accurate. Extracting vectorial information from a dance is also time consuming and not very accurate. Yet, all known species of honeybee dance. We argue that the dance language has evolved not to convey directional information about food sources, but for the purpose of nest site selection. The dance language was then secondarily adapted as a means to recruit foragers. To provide empirical support for this hypothesis, we compare the use of the dance language in species of Apis that differ fundamentally in their nest site requirements.