bee language bee on bluebells

Much of the honeybee’s success comes from her ability to communicate effectively with her sister bees.

For thousands of years, beekeepers have known that when one bee finds a source of nectar or pollen, she is able, somehow, to tell her sister bees the exact location of this food source.

But the details of this communication remained a mystery until the pioneering research of Professor Karl von Frisch (1886 - 1982). He was a professor of zoology at Munich University carrying out research into bees and fish.

In August 1944, while working at Brunwinkel in Southern Germany, he discovered the amazing dance language of the honeybee.

Dancing bees!

The dance language can be divided into two kinds of message - the circle dance and the figure of eight dance.

Circle Dance

If the food source is less than 100 metres from the hive, the bee does a circle, or round dance. During the dance, the bee stops to give samples of the nectar, or to allow the pollen on her back legs to be inspected. The dance appears to say simply that there is food close to the hive. No distance or directional information is given.

Figure of Eight Dance

If the food source is more than 100 metres from the hive, the dance changes to a figure of eight pattern. When the bee passes through the centre of the eight, she wags her tail. The longer the time spent wagging, the further away the food is. Again the dancing bee gives out samples.

The angle of the wagtail section of the dance shows the direction of the food source. The angle formed between the vertical and the straight section of the figure of eight in the dance is the same as the angle formed at the hive between the present position of the sun and the direction of the food.