Did you know that bees communicate with each other?

Hot day, a very hot Summer day. While inspecting a hive, Basti and I.

“You see, you see how that bee is moving??”

“Yes, and what does it mean? It doesn’t feel well???”

“Of course it feels well, it’s its way to communicate where nectar is to the others!”

Ah! No, this was definitely new to me. Among the endless things bees can do, there is this too: communication! Bees communicate with each other! I am more and more impressed!!! But wait a moment, what does it mean that bees communicate with each other? How? What happens? What do they tell to each other? Anything important?

Bees communicate with each other…even too well!

A couple of months ago a sweet girl from Florence contacted me on Instagram because she had an issue with some bees. I say ‘sweet’ girl also because she works at a bakery 😊 this was her message:

Hello! How are you? Sorry to disturb but I noticed that you live with the bees…I am contacting you for a suggestion: I work at a bakery and since one week we are full of bees that come to eat on our sweets, both inside and outside the shop. We have called 6 beekeepers and nobody was able to help us. They suggested us to put sugar and water outside, but it was even worst. We called the police and the firemen but nobody does anything. Vinegar and things like this don’t work…I thought that maybe you knew anything else

Why this?

Imagine: we are at end of September, the nectar sources start to decrease more and more (for sure bees can’t find as much as the previous months). A bee desperate for food bumped into this bakery and…how is it possible that now it’s full of bees the whole day? There is no nest, no beegarden in the nearby. Only many bees that found much sugar and everytime a customer enters, they follow him. The answer is that the first bee-pioneer, once she was back to her hive, communicated the discovery to her sisters and from there more and more bees started to visit daily the backery. So, first of all, one of the main points communicated is the source of food.

Ok, bees communicate with each other…but how?

Bees communicate to each other where the nectar is
Hard-working bees

Do you remember the book I mentioned the last time? The super interesting one by Karl von Frisch? Well, the title is The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees and not at random there is a whole chapter about bees’ communication. The question naturally arises: how can bees communicate? The answer may make people smiling: by dancing! Yes, they are very good dancers and according to the movements they do they share certain messages. Once back at the hive the bee makes a circle dance, the super excited sisters follow the dance and then they start to look for the same food source. Everytime they come back to the hive, there will be more and more bees ready to dance and communicate the found nectar sources. As a result, more and more bees will visit that same place.

How can they understand which flower to visit?

Ok, at this point you may tell “that’s fine, bees make certain movements and the others understand that there is nectar not that far away, but then? How can they understand where they should go?”. That’s true, but the point is that bees communicate much more with this dance. As Von Frisch explains, after several experiments, first of all bees can distinguish the smell of the flowers that they will have to visit. They can perceive very well this smell and they won’t have issues to find it again. For this reason we told they pollinate the same flower species…because it’s what they are looking for. How can they smell? I mean, neither a truffle dog is so good, no?…They can make it through two different ways: firstly, through the antennas they smell what left on the dancing joyful bee. Secondly, they’ll get a taste of the just collected nectar, that is full of the flower smell.

Better than a satnav!

The smell is for sure a very important first step to find the flower when bees reach the area. Nevertheless, bees can reach nectar sources till 3 km distance…how can they understand the direction to take? Or how much is close?…what if I tell you that this too they successfully communicate? Indeed with what Von Frisch call the “abdomen dance”, bees communicate how much the nectar source is far away. This depends on how long they agitate their abdomen, for example, if for half a second the food is at 300 m distance, whereas with 4 seconds is at 4500 metres distance. Bees realise how long they have been flying according to the energy they have used. Simply great! However, this is not all, ok the distance, but what about the direction?? The first part of the dance, the “linear” part, is connected to the direction to be taken. Most enchanting part? Bees´compass is the sun. Even if it’s hidden behind the clouds, bees can perceive it anyway thanks to the ultraviolet rays. While if it’s hidden behind the black clouds of a thunderstorm, of course not, but it’s also true that bees don’t leave their hive to look for food during a storm or in the night.

How could’t have I thought earlier about this – a social insect has to communicate somehow too! And bees can communicate very well! Do you find this all magic you too? They never end to impress me – let us know what you think about it, we’re curious!

A hug,

The Gaeblini  

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