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Bees stutter to communicate. But to do it well, they need to learn to dance

TechScienceBees stutter to communicate. But to do it well, they need to learn to dance

In a castaway test setup, groups of young bees figuring out how to forage on their own spontaneously start dancing — but badly.

Faltering matters. A bee’s rump-shimmy run and twisting loops encode clues that help her colony mates fly to the food she’s found, sometimes kilometers away. However, the five colonies in the new test had no older sisters or half-sisters as role models for correcting dance moves.

Still, in some ways the dance improved as the youngsters hopped and hopped day after day, reports behavioral ecologist James Nieh of the University of California, San Diego. But when the clues to distance information wander, apis mellifera Never matched timing and coding in normal colonies without role models, where young bees practiced with older foragers before doing the main waggle themselves.

Youngsters-only colonies thus show Social learning, or the lack thereof, matters for communication through dance Among honeybees, Nieh and an international team of colleagues said March 10 Science, B. Waggle dancing, a type of language, is both innate and learned, as in songbirds or human communication.

The dance may appear simple in a diagram, but it becomes challenging to execute upon the expansion of the honeycomb cells. “The bees are moving about one body length per second in pitch black trying to keep the right angle,” says Nieh, who is surrounded by hundreds of other bees.

Beekeepers and biologists know that some types of bees can learn from other bees of their own kind – some Bumblebees try football too ,Sn: 2/23/17, But when it comes to dancing, “I think people take it for granted that it’s genetic,” Nieh says. For example, this fancy footwork would make more talkative but cuttlefish like spontaneous communication of color changes. The lab bee-castaway experiments instead show a nonhuman example of “social learning for sophisticated communication,” Nieh says.

Some elaborate beekeeping was required to test social learning. At a bee research center in Kunming, China, researchers placed thousands of nearly grown bees (called the purple-eyed pupa stage) in incubators and then collected newly winged adults when they emerged.

These young people moved into colonies with five peculiar populations of newcomers of the same age group. Each colony had a queen, who laid eggs but did not leave the colony to forage. Food had to come from a young workforce, with no older, seasoned forest dwellers buzzing and dancing in flower beds.

In the wobble dance, foraging bees have to master not only the moves but also the obstacles of the dance floor of the hive. A cell may be empty. “It just has to hang over the edges….it would be easy to stumble over,” Nieh says. Unlike commercial hives with manufactured identical honeycomb cells, natural combs “are very irregular,” he says. “With edges, they Gets a little crazy and rough.”

A bee that brings food home to its colony performs a looping, wobbly dance that tells its colony mates how to find the source. In the center, a bee with a green dot on its back is performing its first wobble dance, while other bees crowd around. She has already made up her mind to move along to the dances of the other experienced villagers, so she does the figure eight quite regularly. A new study shows that bees that don’t have such mentors don’t nail the dance moves as well.

Dancing on these treacherous surfaces encodes the direction of food in the angle a dancer moves across the comb (measured relative to gravity). The duration of the waging bout gives a clue as to how far the bonanza is.

Unlike the five other colonies in beekeeping with a natural mix, the castaway’s five colonies were left to explore the dance on their own. At the start of the experiments, the researchers recorded and analyzed the first dances of five bees from each hive.

Even in mixed-age hives, the dancers didn’t get the angle right every time. In a set of six waggle runs the extremes can vary slightly by more than 30°. However, the Castaway Hives have had more trouble before. Two out of five fugitive dancers rotated angles by more than 50°, and one poor bee deviated by more than 60° in six repeats.

By wobbly dancing, bees share news about where to find food. Marked with a purple dot in the center of the bee making an irregular figure eight loop, she did not have older, experienced foragers to lead her in the practice dance. As a result, her first dance is rough and the other bees seem to bump into her as much as they follow her. A study comparing bees with and without dance mentors suggests that this sophisticated communication is a mixture of innate and learned behavior.

As the artists got more experience, they got better. Repeating the test with the same marked bees a few weeks near the end of their life, they were found to be fishing alongside the dancers in a common hive.

What the castaways didn’t change were the features of the dance that coded distance from the food. The researchers had set up the hives so that everyone had the same experience flying up to a feeder. Yet the abandoned bees continued to dance as if they were away.

They gave more rump wags per wag run (closer to five wags) than bees from mixed-age hives (more like 3.5 wags). The youngsters also took longer on each run.

“Evidence like this foraging study” is really accumulating for the importance of learning (whether individual or social) in bees’ complex behaviors, says insect ecologist Tamar Kiser of the University of Haifa in Israel in an email. In her work, she observes that bees are learning to extract food from complex flowers. After all, bees aren’t little automatons with wings.

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