Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 859–878

The Elusive Honey Bee Dance “Language” Hypothesis

  • Adrian M. Wenner


In the mid-1930s, Karl von Frisch proposed the equivalent of an odor-search hypothesis for honey bee recruitment to food sources. A decade later he switched to the equivalent of a “dance language” hypothesis (though he apparently did not consider his conclusions as hypotheses in either case). The later and more exotic hypothesis rapidly gained acceptance, but it failed its first experimental tests in the mid-1960s; searching recruits did not behave as von Frisch indicated they should under the language hypothesis. His earlier and more conservative odor-search hypothesis meshed better with results obtained in those test experiments. Language advocates then ignored basic precepts of scientific process, rejected and/or ignored results not in accord with their favored hypothesis, and instead repeatedly sought additional supportive evidence. While so doing, they inadvertently accumulated yet more evidence counter to von Frisch's original intent. By invoking ad hoc modifications and qualifications, advocates weakened, rather than strengthened, the hypothesis they continued to embrace. That strict adherence to the language hypothesis has had an unfortunate result; the exclusive investment in that line of research by various governmental agencies has failed to provide practical help to beekeepers or growers in the past half-century.

honey bee “dance language” hypothesis odor-search hypothesis von Frisch recruitment to food 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adrian M. Wenner
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta Barbara

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