Bee dance theory confirmed, as reported in Nature vol. 435, p205, 12 May 2005. When bees find a source of nectar they return to their hive and recruit other bees to forage from the same source by performing a dance consisting of moving around in the figure of eight formation and waggling their abdomens. In 1960 Karl von Frisch made careful observations of the bees’ dance and foraging activity after he provided artificial feeding stations for them. He concluded that the bees were able to communicate the direction, in relation to the angle of sun, and distance to the food source.

Some scientists were sceptical that bees could communicate such precise and complex information and suggested that the dance simply attracted other bees to the returning forager so they could pick up the odour of the food source.

This seemed to be confirmed as further experiments showed that bees took longer than expected to find food in artificial feeders than they should if they had precise instructions. A team of British and German scientists led by Joe Riley of Rothamsted Research, Harpenden Hertfordshire, UK tested von Frisch’s theory by tracking individual insects using tiny radar transponders, which enabled them to plot an accurate record of the flight path of each bee from the hive to the food source. They found that the bees flew straight to the vicinity of the food source but then had to search to find the feeder itself. If they didn’t find it immediately, they would return to the point at the end of their initial straight flight where they began the search behaviour. To confirm that the initial straight part of the flight was the result of instructions communicated within the hive the researchers captures some bees as they emerged from the hive and released them from three points 200-250 metres from the hive. These bees flew in a straight line in the direction that would have taken them to the vicinity of the food source if they had not been displaced. This confirms von Frisch’s theory that the bees were flying according to instructions received in the hive, rather than following odours left by the bee that originally found the food. Riley suggests that the bees’ apparent lack of accuracy in finding the food at the end of the flight is that the artificial food source had no scent, and the bees do use scent and other environmental cues for to locate the exact food source at the end of their outward flight, but the artificial food sources lacked these.

Editorial Comment: Communication systems are good examples of creative design as the means of transmitting the information, as well as receiving and understanding it, must both be present at the same time. One without the other is useless. Furthermore, all the genetic information involved in the bee communication system would have had to evolve in the queen bee and the drones, neither of which actually do any foraging, but are the parents of all the worker bees. The worker bees, who go out and find nectar and pollen, do not reproduce, so any genetic changes in them would not be passed on.

Those old enough to remember the 1960’s may remember the Moody Institute “Fact and Faith” film about bees, which included a segment on bee dance communication as evidence of creation. It is good to see it confirmed. (Ref. information, communication, bees)