How Do Bees Communicate?

bees-communicate Credit: Todd Huffman/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

Honeybees communicate via chemical signals known as pheromones and through a movement-based communication known as dancing. Their pheromone communication serves to cement the position of the queen, to suppress egg laying by workers, to attract mates and to keep group cohesion while swarming. Dancing is performed by foraging worker bees to inform other bees in the hive about food they have located.

The dances of honeybees have many important pieces of information contained in them. They can tell other bees the distance to the food, the general direction and the quality of the food source. The dance is only performed for plentiful sources of nectar, the primary food for the hive. The direction of the dance is an angle relative to the position of the sun relative to the hive at the time of the dance.

The speed and amount of buzzing during the dance signal the distance. The length of the dance indicates the quality of the food source, but watching bees will only wait through one repetition before going out to find the food. In this way, the longer the bee dances the more bees will go out to the food. They can communicate the location of food over a mile away. The ability to perform and interpret the dance is innate to honeybees.