How do bees communicate

Bees are one of the insects that arouse the most interest among members of the scientific community, basically for two interrelated reasons. On the one hand, they have one of the most sophisticated and distinguished animal communication systems that exist and, on the other hand, they are great pollinators on whose conservation depends the degradation of ecosystems and the provision of food to human beings.

The communication of bees

In 1788, E. Spitzner observed and identified a pattern in the behavior of worker honey bees when they returned to the hive loaded with food, which centuries later would be explained by other experts and identified as part of the communicative framework of these pollinators. . In fact, it was Karl von Frisch who, from these pioneering studies, during the twentieth century (1920-1982), described the language of bees , their methods of orienting themselves and the sensory faculties they have.

In his studies, Karl explains what types of dances the bees perform to indicate to the rest of the workers in the hive the food sources they have found. Through these dances, as we will explain later, these pollinating insects communicate to transmit data on the direction, the distance and the quality of the food.

Depending on the distance and the location to which these sources are, the melliferous perform two types of dance: one in a circle and another in a semicircle or also known as the dance of 8 .

When their source of supply is located more than 100 m from the hive, the bees perform the dance in a circle, varying the direction of the same; that is, moving from left to right and from right to left. Furthermore, with the intensity and duration of the dance, the bees communicate the abundance of the fountain.

However, when the distances are greater, the bees perform the dance in a semicircle, imaginary tracing an 8. How do they do it? First they perform a semicircle in one direction, then they return in a straight line to the starting point and, from there, they return to make another semicircle but in the opposite direction to the first until they close it and finish the dance in a straight line.

During this straight-line path, the bees make rapid movements tilting their abdomen. This is known as dance of the abdomen or the tail and in its performance the bees emit sounds (from 240 to 260 Hz and from 90 to 110 dB), as a result of the movement of their wings.

The communication of the management and the quality of the food

The workers of Apis mellifera during their foraging collect the pollen and nectar they need to feed. As we have commented, when they arrive at the hive and perform the dance , depending on which it is, they already communicate to the rest of the bees the distance at which their source of food is located. The greater the distance they have to travel, the less lively the dance is; that is, fewer trips in a straight line are made.

The goal is for the rest of the workers to be able to travel to the same area to continue collecting food. One clue is the odors left in the collectors, which indicate the type of food they are looking for. However, they need more data that allows them to know more precisely where to go.

To indicate the direction, when the hive is in a horizontal position, the bees perform their dances indicating the position (at angles) with respect to the sun that keeps the path made to the source. However, this method is not valid when the hives are arranged horizontally. So what bees do is transport and express said angle with respect to the force of gravity.

Finally, the bees transmit to their companions what is the quality of the food collected, with the time it takes to regurgitate it. In this way, when the source is good, it takes between 20 and 30 seconds to deliver or vomit the collected food and then perform a dance; however, they take up to a minute when it is not good and leave the hive without dancing.

Bees live in hives in which the roles and responsibilities to be assumed are distributed according to three types of members: the queen bee, the workers and the drones.

Queen bee

It is the only fertile bee present in the hive. It differs from the rest by being physically larger, by having a more elongated abdomen and by feeding on royal jelly, instead of pollen, after its first days of larval stage. But also, for the vital functions it performs. On the one hand, it is in charge of keeping the hive together, through the production of pheromones and, on the other hand, of the perpetuation of its species. This last function is its greatest challenge, which is why it reaches sexual maturity 6 days after birth and can lay more than 2000 eggs a day.

To start reproduction, the queen performs a dance known as “nuptial flight”, thanks to which she is able to store sperm and fertilize her eggs. After the nuptial flight, the bee lays her eggs -one per cell-, which may be fertilized (worker bees will hatch from them) or not (drones will hatch).

Worker bees

The workers are the non-fertile female bees of the hive that, after their first days in the larval stage, stop eating royal jelly to feed on pollen. As their name suggests, these bees perform multiple tasks.

They are in charge of:

  • Collect food -nectar, pollen, water, propolis- (foraging bees) to later make wax (cherries) or royal jelly (nurses).
  • Clean the hive (cleaning workers), protect it (guardians) and store the collected food in it (storehouses).


They are the male bees that fertilize the queen bee. A curious fact is that, after doing so, they shed their reproductive system and die.

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