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PLoS One. 2008 Jun 4;3(6):e2365. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002365.

East learns from West: Asiatic honeybees can understand dance language of European honeybees.

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  • 1College of Animal Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.


The honeybee waggle dance, through which foragers advertise the existence and location of a food source to their hive mates, is acknowledged as the only known form of symbolic communication in an invertebrate. However, the suggestion, that different species of honeybee might possess distinct 'dialects' of the waggle dance, remains controversial. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether different species of honeybee can learn from and communicate with each other. This study reports experiments using a mixed-species colony that is composed of the Asiatic bee Apis cerana cerana (Acc), and the European bee Apis mellifera ligustica (Aml). Using video recordings made at an observation hive, we first confirm that Acc and Aml have significantly different dance dialects, even when made to forage in identical environments. When reared in the same colony, these two species are able to communicate with each other: Acc foragers could decode the dances of Aml to successfully locate an indicated food source. We believe that this is the first report of successful symbolic communication between two honeybee species; our study hints at the possibility of social learning between the two honeybee species, and at the existence of a learning component in the honeybee dance language.

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