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Nature. 2002 Oct 31;419(6910):920-2.

Honeybee colonies achieve fitness through dancing.

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Department of Entomology, University of California, Riverside, California 92521, USA.


The honeybee dance language, in which foragers perform dances containing information about the distance and direction to food sources, is the quintessential example of symbolic communication in non-primates. The dance language has been the subject of controversy, and of extensive research into the mechanisms of acquiring, decoding and evaluating the information in the dance. The dance language has been hypothesized, but not shown, to increase colony food collection. Here we show that colonies with disoriented dances (lacking direction information) recruit less effectively to syrup feeders than do colonies with oriented dances. For colonies foraging at natural sources, the direction information sometimes increases food collected, but at other times it makes no difference. The food-location information in the dance is presumably important when food sources are hard to find, variable in richness and ephemeral. Recruitment based simply on arousal of foragers and communication of floral odour, as occurs in honeybees, bumble bees and some stingless bees, can be equally effective under other circumstances. Clarifying the condition-dependent payoffs of the dance language provides new insight into its function in honeybee ecology.

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