Thomas Seeley on honeybee communication - The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory

A presentation by Thomas Seeley where he outlines a few different communication signals used by the bees to effectively and efficiently distribute the number of bees taking on different tasks in honey making.

Here is a quick overview:

Shake signal - Tells bees in the hive that they need more foragers.

Waggle dance - Informs bee about where to find nectar

Tremble dance - Communicates a need for more bees in the hive to work at collecting and storing the nectar brought in by the foragers.

The beep signal - If bees that are Tremble dancing encounter waggle dancers they may give them the beep signal as a way of letting them know they should stop.

One of the most readily observed bee communications. Look for one bee holding another bee with its front legs and shaking:

Notice how the held bee stands still while the signal is performed.

The behaviour is generally correlated with a need for more foragers, and possibly serves as an invitation for inactive or non-foraging bees to look for waggle dances and prepare for foraging. It is performed most often by foragers after their first few trips to a nectar source before they start waggle dances.

It has also been suggested that the shake signal might really represent a more general "it's time for a new activity" message, which is then interpreted according to context.

Bees have also been observed to perform the shaking signal on queens. Performing the signal than ceasing to do so just prior to a swarm, mating flight or on mature queen cells particularly after one queen has emerged and before an after swarm.

This behaviour has also been referred to as the vibration signal and once upon a time as the joy dance.


Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley

Honeybee Democracy is one of my favourite bee books. The book summarizes Seeley's life long quest to understand the natural behaviour of this marvellous insect. Rather then talking about what we should do to our bees, the book focuses on what and how the bees, when left to their own devices, decide to do some of the things they do.

Seeley goes into the details of his ground breaking experiments which encompass most of what we currently know about feral hives, the communication processes involved during a swarm and the characteristics of a good bait hive. We also get some insight into Seeley's scientific process and the creative approaches used to uncover honeybee mysteries.

While I consider this a valuable read for all beekeepers, the stories describing the honeybee's sophisticated approaches to communication and decision making will also appeal to the non-beekeepers with a healthy sense of curiosity. You can find a copy on Amazon here.

The following video lecture gives a summary of the ideas discussed in the book. Watch with caution if you haven't read yet read the book. You might spoil some of the suspense.