A beehive can be a crowded place. And it’s no wonder that busy bees collide from time to time. It should come as no surprise that bees, who already have a complex communications system, should have a way of saying “excuse me.”
Honeybee society has three classes. There is the Queen, of course. The Queen is a fertile female who is the mother of all, or most, of the bees in a colony. Then there are the male drones, who have the job of mating with the Queen. Finally, there are the workers — infertile females tasked with building and repairing the hive, finding the food, and caring for the young.
Up to one-quarter of the workers are scouts. These are the ones who go out to find the food. And when they come back, they tell the others where it is, through a series of dances. They use different dances to tell the other workers how far away the food is, what it smells like, and in which direction it lies.
It’s pretty amazing. And it’s no surprise that a group of animals with a complex social system and an even more complicated communications system would find a way to say “excuse me.”
How a Bee Says ‘Oops-a-Daisy’
Bees make a whooping sound by vibrating the muscles in their wings in a certain way. The sound is inaudible to human ears. However, scientists were able to pick up the noise using accelerometers embedded in the walls of the hive.
Scientists first noticed the whooping sound in the 1950s. Since an exchange of food often followed the noise, scientists thought that the sound was a request for food. Later, though, scientists observed that bees also made the signal when one bee tried to stop another from performing the waggle dance. The waggle dance is how scout bees tell other workers where to look for food.
The more scientists observed, the more common they found the noise to be. It happened too often to be a food request, or an attempt to stop the waggle dance. Also, scientists found that the bees make the whooping noise more often at night. On top of that, they found they could get hundreds of bees to make the noise, simply by tapping gently on the outside of the hive.
The noise, scientists surmised, was an expression of surprise. You can hear the whooping sound in the video below.
The Amazing, Threatened Honeybee
Honeybees are amazing, intelligent creatures, with a sophisticated social structure, and a complex system of communication. They are gentle, non-aggressive creatures, who produce the honey that we enjoy. Also, they pollinate flowers and plants — and this is vital to the human food supply.
Unfortunately, honeybee numbers are declining due to some factors. Several viruses have hit colonies hard. Also, neonicotinoid insecticides used in agriculture have killed huge numbers of bees. And bees don’t just make honey. Up to one-third of the world’s food supply depends on their important work.
There are ways you can help.
First, plant a bee friendly garden. Mints, most beans, daisy-shaped flowers, sunflowers, willows, and lime trees are favorites. These plants will provide more food for bees and a friendly place for them to visit.
You can also write your lawmakers to encourage them to adopt bee friendly policies, such as banning neonicotinoids or planting bee-friendly plants in public spaces.
Honeybees are amazing, and we can’t live without them. Help protect these intelligent and useful animals.
Featured Image is CC BY-SA 2.0, by Andy Murray, via Flickr.