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This article is about bee behavior. For the beer, see Wells & Young's Brewery. For the football play, see bootleg play.
The waggle dance - the direction the bee moves in relation to the hive indicates direction; if it moves vertically the direction to the source is directly towards the Sun, the duration of the waggle part of the dance signifies the distance.

Waggle dance is a term used in beekeeping and ethology for a particular figure-eight dance of the honey bee. By performing this dance, successful foragers can share, with other members of the colony, information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen, to water sources, or to new nest-site locations.[1][2] A waggle dance with a very short waggle run used to be characterized as a distinct (round) recruitment dance (see below). Austrian ethologist and Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch was one of the first who translated the meaning of the waggle dance.[3]


Figure-eight-shaped waggle dance of the honeybee (Apis mellifera). A waggle run oriented 45° to the right of ‘up’ on the vertical comb (A) indicates a food source 45° to the right of the direction of the sun outside the hive (B). The abdomen of the dancer appears blurred because of the rapid motion from side to side.

A waggle dance consists of one to 100 or more circuits, each of which consists of two phases: the waggle phase and the return phase. A worker bee's waggle dance involves running through a small figure-eight pattern: a waggle run (aka waggle phase) followed by a turn to the right to circle back to the starting point (aka return phase), another waggle run, followed by a turn and circle to the left, and so on in a regular alternation between right and left turns after waggle runs. Waggle-dancing bees produce and release two alkanes, tricosane and pentacosane, and two alkenes, (Z)-9-tricosene and (Z)-9-pentacosene, onto their abdomens and into the air.[4]

The direction and duration of waggle runs are closely correlated with the direction and distance of the resource being advertised by the dancing bee. For cavity-nesting honey bees, flowers that are located directly in line with the sun are represented by waggle runs in an upward direction on the vertical combs, and any angle to the right or left of the sun is coded by a corresponding angle to the right or left of the upward direction. The distance between hive and recruitment target is encoded in the duration of the waggle runs.[1] The farther the target, the longer the waggle phase. The more excited the bee is about the location, the more rapidly it will waggle, so it will grab the attention of the observing bees, and try to convince them. If multiple bees are doing the waggle dance, it's a competition to convince the observing bees to follow their lead, and competing bees may even disrupt other bees' dances or fight each other off.

Waggle dancing bees that have been in the nest for an extended time adjust the angles of their dances to accommodate the changing direction of the sun. Therefore, bees that follow the waggle run of the dance are still correctly led to the food source even though its angle relative to the sun has changed.

The consumption of ethanol by foraging bees has been shown to reduce waggle dance activity and increase occurrence of the tremble dance.[5]

Kevin Abbott and Reuven Dukas of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada discovered that if a dead Apis mellifera bee is placed on a flower, bees performed far fewer waggle dances upon returning to the hive. The scientists explain that the bees associate the dead bee with the presence of a predator at the food source. The reduction of the dance repetition frequency, therefore, indicates that the dancing bees perform and communicate a form of risk/benefit analysis.[6][7]

Though first decoded by Karl von Frisch, dancing behavior in bees had been observed and described multiple times prior. Around 100 years before Frisch's discovery, Nicholas Unhoch described dancing behavior of bees as being an indulgence “in certain pleasures and jollity”.[3] He did, however, admit ignorance as to the purpose of the dancing. 35 years prior to Unhoch's observations, Ernst Spitzner observed bees dancing and interpreted it as transmitting forage resource odors to other nestmates.[3] Even Aristotle, in addition to describing flower constancy behavior, suspected that some form of communication occurred between foragers within a nest:

"On each trip the bee does not fly from a flower of one kind to a flower of another, but flies from one violet, say, to another violet, and never meddles with another flower until it has got back to the hive; on reaching the hive they throw off their load, and each bee on her return is followed by three or four companions. What it is that they gather is hard to see, and how they do it has not been observed".[8]

Jürgen Tautz also writes about it in his book "The Buzz about Bees":

Page 112: Many elements of the communication used to recruit miniswarms to feeding sites are also observed in "true" swarming behavior. Miniswarms of foragers are not placed under the same selection pressure as are true swarms, because the fate of the entire colony is not at stake. A truly swarming colony has to be quickly led to a new home, or it will perish. The behavior used to recruit to food sources possibly developed from the "true" swarming behavior.

Tautz,J.: The Buzz about Bees - Biology of a Superorganism (photos by H. R. Heilmann) Springer Heidelberg & Berlin, 2008


Honeybees accumulate an electric charge during flying and when their body parts are moved or rubbed together. Bees emit constant and modulated electric fields during the waggle dance. Both low- and high-frequency components emitted by dancing bees induce passive antennal movements in stationary bees according to Coulomb's Law. The electrically charged flagellum of mechanoreceptor cells are moved by electric fields and more strongly so if sound and electric fields interact. Recordings from axons of the Johnston's organ indicate its sensitivity to electric fields. Therefore, it has been suggested that electric fields emanating from the surface charge of bees stimulate mechanoreceptors and may play a role in social communication during the waggle dance.[9]


Workers of Apis mellifera carnica on honeycomb.

The dance language vs. the waggle dance[edit]

As defined by von Frisch, Tanzsprache (German for "dance language") is the information about direction, distance, and quality of a resource (such as food or nesting sites) contained within the waggle dance.[10] Though von Frisch insisted on the direct connection between the Tanzsprache and the performance of the waggle dance, recent criticism holds that potential foragers need not correctly translate the dance language from the waggle dance to successfully forage.[10] In an experiment on the honeybee Apis mellifera, most individuals who thoroughly followed a waggle dance ignored the resource direction and location information. Instead, 93% of the foragers returned to foraging areas they had previous knowledge of.[10]

Bees that follow a waggle dance can successfully forage without decoding the dance language information in several ways:[11]

  • Dance follower may use olfactory information from the dancer and find either the same resource or a different one with a similar scent.
  • Following a dance may simply trigger foraging behavior. A forager may then search randomly for resources.
  • Following a dance may reactivate private knowledge of a resource. After reactivation, the forager may return to the known resource.
  • Using information communicated in the waggle dance is more useful to foragers when private information about resources is lacking.

Dance language as a language[edit]

The use of the word “language” may lead to misrepresentations of the waggle dance. The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure proposed a system of language where a sign is made up two chief components. The signifier is the physical or phonetic representation of a sign. The signified is the conceptual component.[12] If the dance language followed the Saussurian dyadic model of semiotics, the signifier would be the waggle dance and the signified would be the location of the foraging resource. Though the dance language may or may not follow this sort of pattern, it is not considered to be a language with syntactical grammar or a set of symbols.[11]

Efficiency and adaptation[edit]

The waggle dance may be less efficient than once thought. Some bees observe over 50 waggle runs without successfully foraging, while others will forage successfully after observing 5 runs.[11] Likewise, studies have found that honeybees rarely make use of the information communicated in the waggle dance and seem to only do so about ten percent of the time.[13] [14] Evidently there is a conflict between private information, or individual experience, and social information transmitted through dance communication. This sheds light on the fact that following social information is more energetically costly than foraging independently and is not always advantageous. [15] [16] Using olfactory cues and memory of plentiful foraging sites, honeybees are able to successfully forage independently without expending the potentially extensive energy it takes to process and execute the directions communicated by their fellow foragers.

The waggle dance may be adaptive in some environments and not in others, which provides a plausible explanation as to why the information provided by waggle dances are only used sparingly. Depending on weather, other competitors, and food source characteristics, transmitted information may become obsolete quickly. [17] As a result, foragers reported to be attached to their food sites and continue to revisit a single patch many times after it has become unprofitable. [18] For example, the waggle dance plays a significantly larger role in foraging when food sources are not as abundant. [19] [20] In temperate habitats, for instance, honey bee colonies routinely perform the waggle dance, but can still successfully forage when the dance is experimentally obscured. In tropical habitats, honey bee foraging is severely impaired if waggle dancing is prevented. This is thought to be due to the patchiness of resources in tropical environment versus the homogeneity of resources in temperate environments. In the tropics, food resources can come in the form of flowering trees which are rich in nectar but are scattered sparsely and bloom only briefly. Thus, in tropical zones information about forage location might be more valuable than in temperate zones.[21]


Ancestors to modern honeybees most likely performed excitatory movements to encourage other nestmates to forage. These excitatory movements include shaking, zig-zagging, buzzing and crashing into nestmates. Similar behavior is observed in other Hymenoptera including stingless bees, wasps, bumblebees and ants.[11]

The waggle dance is thought to have evolved to aid in communicating information about a new nest site, rather than spatial information about foraging sites.[11]

Observations have suggested that different species of honeybees have different "dialects" of the waggle dance, each species or subspecies dance varying by curve or duration.[22][23] A study from 2008 demonstrated that a mixed colony of Asiatic honeybees (Apis cerana cerana) and European honeybees (Apis mellifera ligustica) were gradually able to understand one another's "dialects" of waggle dance.[24]

Applications to operations research[edit]

In line with recent work in swarm intelligence research involving optimization algorithms inspired by the behavior of social insects (including bees, ants and termites), and vertebrates such as fish and birds, there has recently been research on using bee waggle dance behavior for efficient fault-tolerant routing.[25] From the abstract of Wedde, Farooq, and Zhang (2004):[26]

In this paper we present a novel routing algorithm, BeeHive, which has been inspired by the communicative and evaluative methods and procedures of honey bees. In this algorithm, bee agents travel through network regions called foraging zones. On their way their information on the network state is delivered for updating the local routing tables. BeeHive is fault tolerant, scalable, and relies completely on local, or regional, information, respectively. We demonstrate through extensive simulations that BeeHive achieves a similar or better performance compared to state-of-the-art algorithms.

Another bee-inspired stigmergic computational technique called bee colony optimization is employed in Internet Server Optimization.[27][28]

The Zigbee RF protocol is named after the waggle dance.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Riley, J.; Greggers, U.; Smith, A.; Reynolds, D.; Menzel, R. (2005). "The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance". Nature 435 (7039): 205–207. Bibcode:2005Natur.435..205R. doi:10.1038/nature03526. PMID 15889092. 
  2. ^ Seeley T.D., Visscher P.K., Passino K.M. (2006). "Group decision making in honey bee swarms". American Scientist 94: 220–229. doi:10.1511/2006.3.220. 
  3. ^ a b c Frisch, Karl von. (1967) The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  4. ^ Thom, C.; Gilley, D.; Hooper, J.; Esch, H. (2007). "The scent of the waggle dance". PLoS Biology 5 (9): e228. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050228. PMC 1994260. PMID 17713987. 
  5. ^ Bozic, J.; Abramson, C.; Bedencic, M. (2006). "Reduced ability of ethanol drinkers for social communication in honeybees (Apis mellifera carnica Poll.)". Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.) 38 (3): 179–183. doi:10.1016/j.alcohol.2006.01.005. PMID 16905444. 
  6. ^ Walker, Matt (31 July 2009). "Honeybees warn of Risky Flowers". BBC Earth News. Retrieved 18 January 2010. 
  7. ^ Abbott, K. R.; Dukas, R. (2009). "Honeybees consider flower danger in their waggle dance". Animal Behaviour 78 (3): 633. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.05.029. 
  8. ^ Aristotle, Historia animalium, IX, 40, Becker 624b; modified from the translation by D.W. Thompson in The Works of Aristotle, Clarendon, Oxford, 1910.
  9. ^ Greggers, Uwe; Koch G; Schmidt V; Dürr A; Floriou-Servou A; Piepenbrock D; Göpfert MC; Menzel R (March 2013). "Reception and learning of electric fields". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280: 20130528. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.0528. 
  10. ^ a b c Grüter, C.; Balbuena, M.; Farina, W. (2008). "Informational conflicts created by the waggle dance". Proceedings. Biological sciences / the Royal Society 275 (1640): 1321–1327. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0186. PMC 2602683. PMID 18331980. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Grüter, C. .; Farina, W. . (2009). "The honeybee waggle dance: can we follow the steps?". Trends in ecology & evolution (Personal edition) 24 (5): 242–247. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.12.007. PMID 19307042. 
  12. ^ Saussure, Ferdinand de (1916), "Nature of the Linguistics Sign", in: Charles Bally & Albert Sechehaye (Ed.), Cours de linguistique générale, McGraw Hill Education.
  13. ^ Dornhaus, A.; Chittka, L (2014). "Why do honey bees dance?". Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology 55: 395-401. 
  14. ^ Gruter, C.; Balbuena, M. S.; Farina, W. M. (2008). ". Informational conflicts created by the waggle dance". Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 275: 1321–1327. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0186. PMC 2602683. PMID 18331980. 
  15. ^ Al Toufailia, H.; Gruter, C.; Ratnieks, F. L. W. (2013). "Persistence to unrewarding feeding locations by honeybee foragers (Apis mellifera): the effects of experience, resource profitability and season". Ethology 119: 1096–1106. doi:10.1111/eth.12170. 
  16. ^ Gruter, C; Ratnieks, F. L. W. (2011). "Honeybee foragers increase the use of waggle dance information when private information becomes unrewarding". Animal Behaviour 81: 949. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.01.014. 
  17. ^ Gruter, C.; Farina, W. M. (2009). "The honeybee waggle dance: can we follow the steps?". Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24: 242–247. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2008.12.007. PMID 19307042. 
  18. ^ name="tle=Persistence to unrewarding feeding locations by honeybee foragers (Apis mellifera): the effects of experience, resource profitability and season"
  19. ^ name="The biology of the dance language"
  20. ^ name="Informational conflicts created by the waggle dance"
  21. ^ Dornhaus, A.; Chittka, L. (2004). "Why do honey bees dance?". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 55 (4): 395. doi:10.1007/s00265-003-0726-9. 
  22. ^ Gould; Towne (1989). "On the Evolution of the Dance Language: Response to Dyer and Seeley". American Naturalist (The American Society of Naturalists) 134 (1): 156–159. doi:10.1086/284972. JSTOR 2462282. 
  23. ^ Dyer; Seeley (1991). "Dance Dialects and Foraging Range in Three Asian Honey Bee Species". Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology (Springer) 28 (4): 227–233. doi:10.1007/BF00175094. JSTOR 4600541. 
  24. ^ Su, S.; Cai, F.; Si, A.; Zhang, S.; Tautz, J.; Chen, S.; Giurfa, M. (2008). Giurfa, Martin, ed. "East learns from West: Asiatic honeybees can understand dance language of European honeybees". PLoS ONE 3 (6): e2365. Bibcode:2008PLoSO...3.2365S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002365. PMC 2391287. PMID 18523550. 
  25. ^ Crina, Grosan; Abraham Ajith. (2006) Stigmergic Optimization: Inspiration, Technologies and Perspectives. Studies in Computational Intelligence. Vol. 31. pp. 1-24. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg. ISBN 978-3-540-34689-0
  26. ^ Wedde, H. F.; Farooq, M.; Pannenbaecker, T.; Vogel, B.; Mueller, C.; Meth, J.; Jeruschkat, R. (2005). "BeeAdHoc". Proceedings of the 2005 conference on Genetic and evolutionary computation - GECCO '05. p. 153. doi:10.1145/1068009.1068034. ISBN 1595930108. 
  27. ^ Nakrani, S.; Tovey, C. (2004). "On Honey Bees and Dynamic Server Allocation in Internet Hosting Centers". Adaptive Behavior 12 (3–4): 223. doi:10.1177/105971230401200308. 
  28. ^ C. Tovey, (2004) "The Honey Bee Algorithm: A Biological Inspired Approach to Internet Server Optimization". Engineering Enterprise. Spring 2004, pp.13-15.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waggle_dance — Please support Wikipedia.
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1951 news items


Tue, 06 Oct 2015 23:00:00 -0700

As for the waggle dance, it's part of an active scavenger hunt that will send guests searching for a beehive-costumed character. “(The dance) is a way bees communicate to other bees to tell them where the yummy stuff is — oh, all the good flowers are ...

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Mon, 14 Sep 2015 09:52:30 -0700

Honey bees use a waggle dance to communicate the distance and direction of flowers for foraging to other worker bees. It is thought that the buzzing sounds the bee makes helps transfer the information as well as the angle of the waggle dance ...

Irish Times

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Fri, 03 Apr 2015 17:00:00 -0700

Last year researchers at Sussex University completed a decoding of the waggle dance – the mechanism by which bees communicate inside the hive as to where to find the best food sources. By noting the angle of the dance in relation to the sun and the ...


Thu, 10 Sep 2015 14:57:22 -0700

You want your fucking mind blown about how we figure this shit out, by the way, you should google “waggle dance” and “Karl von Frisch” to find out about how we figured out how bees fucking talk to each other. Seriously, it's nuts, and these are BEES ...

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Mon, 14 Sep 2015 12:09:22 -0700

Ms Tuszynska said that the famous waggle dance given by a bee that has found a food source alerted the rest of the hive as to the direction, distance and amount and quality of the source. "All done by variations in wing beats," she said. "Different ...
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The way the bees communicate — through a special dance called waggle dance — is quite famous too among the researchers. It is fascinating how through this dance the successful foragers share information about the direction and distance to patches of ...


Tue, 27 May 2014 14:43:43 -0700

Do you remember wishing you could speak to animals when you were a kid? It appears that dream can come true, as researchers at the LASI Bee Research & Outreach center have proven that learning the language of the honeybee's waggle dance can ...

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