Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 4, pp 549–556 | Cite as

Honey bee waggle dance communication: signal meaning and signal noise affect dance follower behaviour

  • Hasan Al ToufailiaEmail author
  • Margaret J. Couvillon
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
  • Christoph Grüter
Original Paper


Returning honey bee foragers perform waggle dances to inform nestmate foragers about the presence, location and odour of profitable food sources and new nest sites. The aim of this study is to investigate how the characteristics of waggle dances for natural food sources and environmental factors affect dance follower behaviour. Because food source profitability tends to decrease with increasing foraging distance, we hypothesised that the attractiveness of a dance, measured as the number of dance followers and their attendance, decreases with increasing distance to the advertised food location. Additionally, we determined whether time of year and dance signal noise, quantified as the variation in waggle run direction and duration, affect dance follower behaviour. Our results suggest that bees follow fewer waggle runs as the food source distance increases, but that they invest more time in following each dance. This is because waggle run duration increases with increasing foraging distance. Followers responded to increased angular noise in dances indicating more distant food sources by following more waggle runs per dance than when angular noise was low. The number of dance followers per dancing bee was also affected by the time of year and varied among colonies. Our results provide evidence that both noise in the message, that is variation in the direction component, and the message itself, that is the distance of the advertised food location, affect dance following. These results indicate that dance followers may pay attention to the costs and benefits associated with using dance information.


Apis mellifera Waggle dance Foraging Honey bee Communication Signal noise 



We thank Francisca Segers and Roger Schürch for help with statistics. We also thank undergraduate student workers Amanda Kuepfer, Elisabeth Harris-Jones, Samantha Mackenzie-Smith, Laura Rozario and postgraduate student Fiona Riddell Pearce for work collecting the dance data. Hasan Al Toufailia was funded by the University of Damascus, Syria. Margaret Couvillon was funded by the Nineveh Charitable Trust. Christoph Grüter was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (fellowship PA00P3_129134).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hasan Al Toufailia
    • 1
    Email author
  • Margaret J. Couvillon
    • 1
  • Francis L. W. Ratnieks
    • 1
  • Christoph Grüter
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, School of Life Science, John Maynard-Smith BuildingUniversity of SussexFalmerUK
  2. 2.Departamento de Biologia da Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão PretoUniversidade de São PauloRibeirão PretoBrazil

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