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Trends Ecol Evol. 2009 May;24(5):242-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2008.12.007. Epub 2009 Mar 21.

The honeybee waggle dance: can we follow the steps?

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  • 1Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, Department of Biological and Environmental Science, John Maynard-Smith Building, University of Sussex, Falmer BN1 9QG, UK.


The honeybee (Apis mellifera) waggle dance, whereby dancing bees communicate the location of profitable food sources to other bees in the hive, is one of the most celebrated communication behaviours in the animal world. Dance followers, however, often appear to ignore this location information, the so-called dance language, after leaving the nest. Here we consider why foragers follow dances and discuss the function of the dance as a multicomponent signal. We argue that the 'dance language' is just one information component of the waggle dance and that the two terms should not be used synonymously. We propose that location information is often backup information to be used in case information acquired directly from the environment about food sources is not available, is of poor quality or is associated with unprofitable food sources.

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