When the forager honeybee discovers a good source of food, it returns to the hive and dances on the wall of the honeycomb to tell the others the location of the food source.
The routine it goes through is quite precise. If the food is close to the hive it does a round dance, making alternate circles to the left and to the right. It indicates the abundance of the food source by the vigour of the dance.
When the food source is further away it does a more complicated ritual. In this ‘waggle’ dance, it moves in a figure eight. In the parts separating the two circles it waggles its abdomen in complex patterns which communicate a great deal of information. It indicates distance by the tempo, accurately conveying how much effort will be needed to reach the food.
We think it remembers the direction of the food source by estimating its angle to the sun. Using vertical lines on the face of the honeycomb to represent the direction of the sun, it shifts the direction of its waggle runs to represent the angle of the food from the sun. The bees dance routine was confirmed in 1989 when researchers successfully led bees to food sources using a robot bee.
So next time you can’t find the smorgasbord, try getting your partner to do a little dance routine, and see if it helps you make a bee line for the food.