We studied the extent to which worker honey bees acquire information from waggle dances throughout their careers as foragers. Small groups of foragers were monitored from time of orientation flights to time of death and all in-hive behaviors relating to foraging were recorded. In the context of a novice forager finding her first food source, 60% of the bees relied, at least in part, on acquiring information from waggle dances (being recruited) rather than searching independently (scouting). In the context of an experienced forager whose foraging has been interrupted, 37% of the time the bees resumed foraging by following waggle dances (being reactivated) rather than examining the food source on their own (inspecting). And in the context of an experienced forager engaged in foraging, 17% of the time the bees initiated a foraging trip by following a waggle dance. Such dance following was observed much more often after an unsuccessful than after a successful foraging trip. Successful foragers often followed dances just briefly, perhaps to confirm that the kind of flowers they had been visiting were still yielding forage. Overall, waggle dance following for food discovery accounted for 12–25% of all interactions with dancers (9% by novice foragers and 3–16% by experienced foragers) whereas dance following for reactivation and confirmation accounted for the other 75–88% (26% for reactivation and 49–62% for confirmation). We conclude that foragers make extensive use of the waggle dance not only to start work at new, unfamiliar food sources but also to resume work at old, familiar food sources.
Animal communication Honeybees Recruitment Scouting Waggle dance