Honeybees have a complex system for communicating with each other about food sources – they waggle their abdomen in a specific, repeated pattern. Other bees in the hive watch this “waggle dance” and follow its instructions to get first dibs on the best meals.

But, as biologist James Nieh from the University of California, San Diego and his team have found, this dance isn’t something bees just wake up one morning knowing how to do. Younger bees need to learn it from older bees in the hive – it’s culturally transmitted, similar to how children learn language from their parents. And, as with human language, the bees’ waggle dance varies from region to region, like different dialects.

Nieh and his team devised an experiment to get to the bottom of how this generational hand-off happens.

Also today:

Mary Magnuson

Assistant Science Editor

A honeybee is performing the waggle dance in the center of this photo to communicate the location of a rich nectar source to its nestmates. Heather Broccard-Bell

Unlocking secrets of the honeybee dance language – bees learn and culturally transmit their communication skills

James C. Nieh, University of California, San Diego

Honeybees possess one of the most complex examples of nonhuman communication. New research suggests that it is learned and culturally passed down from older to younger bees.


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    Scientists say that springing forward into daylight savings time is worse for your health than what?

    1. A. Smoking a carton of unfiltered cigarettes
    2. B. Chugging a bottle of bourbon
    3. C. Falling back in the autumn
    4. D. Texting in the hour before bedtime

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