Tactics of dance choice in honey bees: do foragers compare dances?

Summary

(1) When a honey bee follows recruitment dances to locate a new food source, does she sample multiple dances representing different food sources and selectively respond to the strongest dance? (2) Several initial findings suggested that foragers might indeed compare dances. First, dance information is arrayed in the hive in a way that facilitates comparison-making: dances for different flower patches are performed close together in time and space. Second, food-source quality is coded in the dances, in terms of dance length (number of circuits per dance). Third, dances to natural food sources vary in length by more than 2 orders of magnitude, indicating that the quality of natural food sources varies greatly. Fourth, foragers seeking a new food source follow several dances before exiting the hive (though only one dance is followed closely). (3) Nevertheless, a critical test for comparison-making revealed that foragers evidently do not compare dances. A colony was given two feeders that were equidistant from the hive but different in profitability. If foragers do not compare dances, then the proportion of recruits arriving at the richer feeder should match the proportion of dance circuits for the richer feeder. This is the pattern that we found in all 11 trials of the experiment. (4) We suggest that the reason foragers do not compare dances is that a colony's foraging success is greater if its foragers distribute themselves among the various food sources being advertised in the hive than if they crowd themselves on the one, best source. (5) Food-source selection by honey bee colonies is a democratic decision-making process. This study reveals that this selection process is organized to function effectively even though each member of the democracy possesses incomplete information about the available choices.

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Seeley, T.D., Towne, W.F. Tactics of dance choice in honey bees: do foragers compare dances?. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 30, 59–69 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00168595

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Keywords

  • Food Source
  • Selection Process
  • Incomplete Information
  • Initial Finding
  • Critical Test