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Dancing: Interesting “Bee”-Havior

by  Matthew Vanhorn

Honeybees are vital to life on this planet. Diligently, they go from flower to flower, pollinating with all their might. They maintain the Earth’s vegetation, and are the only insect to produce a food eaten by humans. Honeybees spend much of their time scouting for food. When a forager happens upon a source of food, it must alert the hive of the recently discovered nectar. The hive could very possibly have 15,000 members, and one tiny bee alone could not successfully feed the hive. Obviously, bees lack the mental capacity to speak as we do. This places the honeybee in a predicament, because they need to inform their sisters where the food is.

Honeybees are incredible creatures to observe, because they work together so well. Karl von Frisch of the University of Munich in Germany was fascinated with these creatures, and won a Nobel Prize for his study of them. He discovered that honeybees communicate the location of food by dancing. In order to identify the location of a food source that cannot be seen or smelled from the hive, the successful forager performs a dance on the honeycomb inside the hive. Other bees will then gather around the dancing bee and imitate its movements.

The dancing bee does a circular dance on the surface of the honeycomb in a figure-eight pattern. If the food source is far away, then the bee will dance slowly; if the food source is relatively nearby, then the bee will “waggle” more vigorously. The direction relative to the Sun in which the dancing bee waggles indicates the location of the food source relative to the Sun. To illustrate, if the dancer flies straight up, then the food is in the direction of the Sun; if the dancing bee flies down, then the food is in the direction opposite of the Sun. P. Kirk Visscher, professor of entomology at the University of California-Riverside, proclaimed: “The dance language is the most complex example of symbolic communication in any animal other than primates” (as quoted in Pittaluwala, 2000).

The discovery of the honeybee dance language was recognized as the first clear example of a non-human system that offers an abstract representation of the real world. The origin of language has always been a stumbling stone for evolutionists. Some, like Terrance Deacon, try to dismiss the subject by proposing outlandish theories. In his book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain, he wrote: “The world’s languages evolved spontaneously. They were not designed” (1997, p. 110 emp. added). Though most evolutionists do not believe this theory, they have been quick to dismiss the complexity of the honeybees’ dance language. They attempt to attribute the bees’ unique communication to odors, saying that honeybees simply smell the dancing bee, and “follow their nose” to the sight. However, James L. Gould of Princeton University confirmed Frisch’s belief that the honeybee dance is indeed a complex communication system.

Gould observed that the bees orient their dance differently in light than in the dark. Honeybees use three eye-like organs called ocelli to detect dim light. Researchers painted over the ocelli of some bees in order to eliminate their ability to see dim light. Researchers placed an artificial light outside their makeshift glass hive, so that only unpainted bees would believe themselves to be in pale daylight. Therefore, when a painted forager came to the hive, and shared her news of a food source, she danced as if she was in the dark, defining angles based on gravity alone. The unpainted audience assessed the angles according to the light, and went to the wrong location. Though scent could have drawn them to the food source, the bees went to an identical feeder in a different spot. Thus, Gould concluded: “Though locale odors may be important under some circumstances, it is clear that the language really does communicate direction and distance” (1988).

DID THE DANCE EVOLVE?

What would it take for the dance language to evolve? Without a form of communication, forager bees could not alert the other bees of their findings. Thus, the survival of the hive would depend on enough bees finding the food sources by happenstance. In this scenario, the members of the hive most likely would starve. If one day a resourceful bee managed to invent the dance, how would she explain it to her friends? If this process evolved slowly, how would all the bee ancestors have survived while this system of communication was evolving? Animals cannot accrue knowledge and build upon past experiences like humans can. Animals today are no smarter than animals were a thousand years ago. And, if the bees once survived without this complicated method, why invent such a complicated new system? There is no conceivable way that honeybees “evolved” their dance language. Honeybees, with their pinhead-sized brains, do not possess the mental capacity to create such a complex system of communication.

How, then, can the communication of honeybees be explained? If evolution is not a plausible explanation, then what is? There is an alternative: honeybees were endowed with the ability to communicate efficiently with one another by an intelligent Creator—a Creator Whose every word is obeyed by nature. That Creator is our God—the Ruler of all nature.

REFERENCES

Deacon, Terrance (1997), The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain (New York: W.W. Norton).

Gould, J.L. and C.G. (1988), The Honey Bee (New York: Scientific American Library).

Pittaluwala, Iqbal (2002), “UC Riverside Entomologists Report Bee-Dancing Brings More Food to Honeybee Colonies,” [On-line], URL: http://www.info.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/display.cgi?id=307.




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