, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 375-383

The tremble dance of the honey bee: message and meanings

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Summary

The nectar foragers of a honey bee colony, upon return to the hive, sometimes perform a mysterious behavior called the tremble dance. In performing this dance, a forager shakes her body back and forth, at the same time rotating her body axis by about 50° every second or so, all the while walking slowly across the comb. During the course of a dance, which on average lasts 30 min, the bee travels about the broodnest portion of the hive. It is shown experimentally that a forager will reliably perform this dance if she visits a highly profitable nectar source but upon return to the hive experiences great difficulty finding a food-storer bee to take her nectar. This suggests that the message of the tremble dance is “I have visited a rich nectar source worthy of greater exploitation, but already we have more nectar coming into the hive than we can handle.” It is also shown experimentally that the performance of tremble dances is followed quickly by a rise in a colony's nectar processing capacity and (see Nieh, in press and Kirchner, submitted) by a drop in a colony's recruitment of additional bees to nectar sources. These findings suggest that the tremble dance has multiple meanings. For bees working inside the hive, its meaning is apparently “I should switch to the task of processing nectar,” while for bees working outside the hive (gathering nectar), its meaning is apparently “I should refrain from recruiting additional foragers to my nectar source.” Hence it appears that the tremble dance functions as a mechanism for keeping a colony's nectar processing rate matched with its nectar intake rate at times of greatly increased nectar influx. Evidently the tremble dance restores this match in part by stimulating a rise in the processing rate, and in part by inhibiting any further rise in the intake rate.

Correspondence to: T. Seeley