Dance floor clustering: food-anticipatory behavior in persistent and reticent honey bee foragers

Abstract

The honey bee time memory enables foragers to return to a profitable food source in anticipation of the time of day at which they previously collected food from that source. The time memory thus allows foragers to quickly resume exploiting a source after interruption, at the appropriate time of day, without the costs associated with having to rediscover it. A portion of a foraging group (the persistent foragers) will reconnoiter a previously profitable source and may do so for several days. The remaining bees (the reticent foragers) await confirmation of availability before revisiting the source. Recent work has shown that both persistent and reticent bees make extracurricular flights to alternative sources when one food source ceases being productive. Little else, however, is known about reticent foragers. In the present study, we determined that reticent bees congregate near the hive entrance in anticipation of the learned foraging time as do persistent foragers. We then confirmed that the food-anticipatory clustering takes place on the waggle dance floor, as suspected, but also found differences in the number of days that persistent and reticent foragers continue clustering. Finally, we found that persistent foragers had significantly more rewards per day at the source than did reticent foragers, supporting the hypothesis that experience at a food source influences a forager’s decision to become either persistent or reticent. Our findings demonstrate that persistence and reticence are not immutable characteristics of foragers themselves but rather strategies they employ toward different food sources.

Significance statement

Much has been learned in recent years about the honey bee time memory and foraging behavior. Receiving scant attention, however, is the phenomenon of forager bees gathering near the hive entrance, anticipating the time of day when previously productive food sources become available. We show that both persistent and reticent bees (foragers that do and do not investigate the source, respectively) congregate on the waggle dance floor at the appropriate time of day, but, in the absence of food at the source, persistent bees continue to show this behavior a day or two longer than reticent bees do. We also show that experience with the source influences the decision to become persistent or reticent. Our results reveal how foraging experience influences the individual bee’s decision making, thereby providing insights into how foragers are reallocated efficiently among different resources in the environment.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Jennifer N. Johnson, Andrea A. Edge, Sam D. Boyd, Curtis Gill, Joanna Magner, Michael Feathers, and Emily Hardgrave for the invaluable help in the field and two anonymous reviewers for many constructive suggestions on the manuscript. Funding was provided by the Denise I. Pav Research Grant, Department of Biological Sciences, East Tennessee State University (B.V.N.) and the US Department of Agriculture grant no. 2006-35302-17278 (D.M.).

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Correspondence to Darrell Moore.

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Communicated by D. Naug

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Van Nest, B.N., Wagner, A.E., Hobbs, C.N. et al. Dance floor clustering: food-anticipatory behavior in persistent and reticent honey bee foragers. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 70, 1961–1973 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-016-2202-3

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Keywords

  • Foraging
  • Honey bees
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Time memory
  • Food-anticipatory activity