Montana Public Radio

Bug Bytes: Honey Bee Waggle Dance

May 21, 2019

The next time you discover a new restaurant that you love, try telling your friends about it through interpretive dance.

That’s what you would do if you were a honeybee.

When you see a bunch of bees visiting a particular patch of flowers, it’s not because they randomly stumbled upon this great food source. They are there because other members of their colony told them about its exact location.

How, you might ask? It’s called the waggle dance, a vigorous wiggling of a bee’s abdomen as it parades around the hive in a figure 8 pattern.

What may look like a bee that’s consumed a bit too much sugar is actually an incredibly detailed message telling other members of the hive where the best source of pollen and nectar can be found.

Honey bees have an “internal clock” which can calculate the exact position of the sun at any given time as the sun travels across the sky throughout the day.

The dance movements tell other bees what angle to fly (right or left) in relation to the sun’s position when leaving the hive. As the day goes by, and the position of the sun changes, the bees need to constantly alter their dance to change the directions they are giving.

But the angle they need to fly when leaving the hive is not enough. The dance also tells the other bees the distance they need to fly to find the food source.

So through this crazy wiggling, figure 8 shaped dance pattern, honey bees are able to accurately tell other worker bees where to find the best source of food.

While our own method of verbal communication may seem more efficient, you can guarantee that our lives would be happier and more interesting if all we did was dance.

Bug Bytes is made possible by the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium, and Montana Public Radio. This show is also supported by funding from the Greater Montana Foundation: Encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans.