Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 395–401 | Cite as

Why do honey bees dance?

  • Anna DornhausEmail author
  • Lars Chittka
Original Article


The honey bee dance language, used to recruit nestmates to food sources, is regarded by many as one of the most intriguing communication systems in animals. What were the ecological circumstances that favoured its evolution? We examined this question by creating experimental phenotypes in which the location information of the dances was obscured. Surprisingly, in two temperate habitats, these colonies performed only insignificantly worse than colonies which were able to communicate normally. However, foraging efficiency was substantially impaired in an Asian tropical forest following this manipulation. This indicates that dance language communication about food source locations may be important in some habitats, but not in others. Combining published data and our own, we assessed the clustering of bee forage sites in a variety of habitats by evaluating the bees’ dances. We found that the indicated sites are more clustered in tropical than in temperate habitats. This supports the hypothesis that in the context of foraging, the dance language is an adaptation to the particular habitats in which the honey bees evolved. We discuss our findings in relation to spatial aggregation patterns of floral food in temperate and tropical habitats.


Apis mellifera Dance language Evolution Foraging Orientation 



For help and discussions, we would like to thank R. Gadagkar, R. Sukumar, M.J. Verdu, A. Weidenmüller, H. Demmel, and J. Tautz. We would also like to thank two anonymous referees for their valuable comments. This project was funded by DFG grants SFB 554 and Ch147/3-1. The experiments comply with the laws of the countries in which they were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioural Physiology and SociobiologyBiozentrum97074 WürzburgGermany
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK
  3. 3.Queen MaryUniversity of LondonLondonUK

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