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Tag Archives | communication

Bees Buzz Each Other, but Not the Way You Think

by Sid Perkins via news.sciencemag.org

Electric bees? Honey bees may use electrical fields that accumulate on their bodies when they fly or move about to communicate with each other within the hive, a new study suggests.
Credit: Ken Thomas/Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The electric fields that build up on honey bees as they fly, flutter their wings, or rub body parts together may allow the insects to talk to each other, a new study suggests. Tests show that the electric fields, which can be quite strong, deflect the bees’ antennae, which, in turn, provide signals to the brain through specialized organs at their bases.

Scientists have long known that flying insects gain an electrical charge when they buzz around. That charge, typically positive, accumulates as the wings zip through the air—much as electrical charge accumulates on a person shuffling across a carpet. And because an insect’s exoskeleton has a waxy surface that acts as an electrical insulator, that charge isn’t easily dissipated, even when the insect lands on objects, says Randolf Menzel, a neurobiologist at the Free University of Berlin in Germany.

Although researchers have suspected for decades that such electrical fields aid pollination by helping the tiny grains stick to insects visiting a flower, only more recently have they investigated how insects sense and respond to such fields. Just last month, for example, a team reported that bumblebees may use electrical fields to identify flowers recently visited by other insects from those that may still hold lucrative stores of nectar and pollen. A flower that a bee had recently landed on might have an altered electrical field, the researchers speculated.

Now, in a series of lab tests, Menzel and colleagues have studied how honey bees respond to electrical fields. In experiments conducted in small chambers with conductive walls that isolated the bees from external electrical fields, the researchers showed that a small, electrically charged wand brought close to a honey bee can cause its antennae to bend. Other tests, using antennae removed from honey bees, indicated that electrically induced deflections triggered reactions in a group of sensory cells, called the Johnston’s organ, located near the base of the antennae. In yet other experiments, honey bees learned that a sugary reward was available when they detected a particular pattern of electrical field.

Altogether, these tests suggest that the electrical fields that build up on bees due to their flight or movement are stimuli that could be used in social communication, the researchers report online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The team’s findings “are very significant,” says Fred Dyer, a behavioral biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “I hadn’t heard about the possibility that honey bees could use electrical fields.”

One of the honey bees’ forms of communication is the “waggle dance.” When the insects have located a dense patch of flowers or a source of water, they skitter across the honeycomb in their hive in a pattern related to the direction of and the distance to the site. Fellow worker bees then take that information and forage accordingly. The biggest mystery about the dance, Dyer says, is which senses the bees use—often in the deep, dark recesses of their hive—to conduct their communication. “People have proposed a variety of methods: direct contact between bees, air currents from the buzzing of their wings, odors, even vibrations transmitted through the honeycomb itself,” he says.

But the team’s new findings introduce yet another mode of communication available to the insects, Dyer says. He notes that the group found that antenna deflections induced by an electrically charged honey bee wing are about 10 times the size of those that would be caused by airflow from the wing fluttering at the same distance—a sign that electrical fields could be an important signal.

“They show that the electrical fields are there and that they’re within the range of what the animal can sense,” Dyer says. “Their claim of evidence is quite compelling.”

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http://www.cbc.ca/video/swf/UberPlayer.swf?state=shareaudio&clipId=2244975793&width=512&height=126

LISTEN: Dancing In the Dark: The Intelligence of Bees (54min)

Bees are remarkable among insects. They can count, remember human faces, and communicate through dance routines performed entirely in the dark. But are they intelligent? Even creative? Bee aficionado Stephen Humphrey, along with a hive of leading bee researchers and scientists, investigates the mental lives of bees.

http://www.cbc.ca/i/player/v11/gfx/logo.png

[via CBC Radio-Canada]

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Bees at work, the ‘waggle dance’

“They dance a special dance usually performed on a vertical surface of the hive, communicating the direction of a potential food source and its distance from the hive to other bees around… The distance the food source is from the hive is represented by the proportion of time the bee spends wagging its tail in the dance and the direction is represented by the angle to the vertical the bee adopts for the wagging portion of the dance…”

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Bee Behavior Mimics Brain Neuron Function -

“A new study of bees has come to the conclusion that bee swarm communication works similarly to that of neurons in the human brain.

The study, published in the December 9 issue of Science, found that bees use inhibitory “stop” signals to prohibit the scout bees from completing a waggle dance that helps bees learn the directions of competing sites for new hives. This behavior helps to ensure that the best homesite is found for the hive.

Thomas Seeley, a biologist from Cornell University, said this behavior is “analogous to how the nervous system works in complex brains. The brain has similar cross inhibitory signaling between neurons in decision-making circuits.”

To study this behavior the researchers set up swarms, one at a time, on an island off the coast of Maine that was devoid of natural nesting cavities. After setting out two identical nesting boxes, they labeled scout bees with two different paint colors. They then videotaped the scout bees doing the waggle dance. The dances were tracked by watching the scout bees with the marks by using microphones and videotape to tell when they received the stop signals and from which bees.

The team observed that the stop signals came from scouts that were marked at the other site.

Visscher said, “The message the sender scout is conveying to the dancer appears to be that the dancer should curb her enthusiasm, because there is another nest site worthy of consideration Such an inhibitory signal is not hostile. It’s simply saying, ‘Wait a minute, here’s something else to consider, so let’s not be hasty in recruiting every bee to a site that may not be the best one for the swarm. All the bees have a common interest in choosing the best available site.”

According to the press release once the bees decide to swarm and move to a new nesting site the message of the stop signal changes. Visscher says, “Apparently at this point, the message of the stop signal changes, and can be thought of as, ‘Stop dancing, it is time to get ready for the swarm to fly. It is important for the scouts to be with the swarm when it takes off, because they are responsible for guiding the flight to the nest site.”

[click here to view the full article on redorbit.com]

[click here to view similar articles on psypost.org and arstechnica.com]

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Dancing Honeybee Using Vector Calculus to Communicate

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“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh.
“Not that many listen though.”
“That’s the problem.”

-The Tao of Pooh

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