The Dancing Bees of Karl von Frisch

Born this day in 1886 was Karl von Frisch, an ethologist (scientist specializing in animal behavior) best known for his pioneering work with bees. Frisch studied the sensory perception of bees and famously discovered the fascinating language of the honey bee.

Although many animals are known to communicate with one another, bees have developed a sophisticated language expressed through movement, described as a dance.

Honey bees live in colonies of thousands of bees, each serving an important role for the benefit of the colony. There is a queen and about a hundred drones to mate with her. And then there are the worker bees, who travel away from the hive to search for food, in the form of pollen and nectar, sometimes over a mile away.

This is hard work for bees, so they figured out how to make it more efficient through communication. When a worker bee finds food, it recruits other bees through a sequence of movements. A round dance tells bees that food is nearby. For greater distances, it uses a “waggle” dance that communicates the direction and distance of the food.

Honey bees also dance to communicate acceptance of new home sites when swarming.

Karl von Frisch won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973 and died in 1982.