Why do honey bees dance?

Anna Dornhaus, Lars Chittka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


The honey bee dance language, used to recruit nestmates to food sources, is regarded by many as one of the most intriguing communication systems in animals. What were the ecological circumstances that favoured its evolution? We examined this question by creating experimental phenotypes in which the location information of the dances was obscured. Surprisingly, in two temperate habitats, these colonies performed only insignificantly worse than colonies which were able to communicate normally. However, foraging efficiency was substantially impaired in an Asian tropical forest following this manipulation. This indicates that dance language communication about food source locations may be important in some habitats, but not in others. Combining published data and our own, we assessed the clustering of bee forage sites in a variety of habitats by evaluating the bees' dances. We found that the indicated sites are more clustered in tropical than in temperate habitats. This supports the hypothesis that in the context of foraging, the dance language is an adaptation to the particular habitats in which the honey bees evolved. We discuss our findings in relation to spatial aggregation patterns of floral food in temperate and tropical habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-401
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Apis mellifera
  • Dance language
  • Evolution
  • Foraging
  • Orientation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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