Bees use their senses not only to perceive their surroundings but also to communicate with each other. Bees send and receive impulses in order to be able to function as efficiently as possible for the best of the hive. A particular type of impulse may initiate a “programme” that is already in the bee’s genes, which makes the bee begin a task that needs to be performed in the colony.
The pheromones that the queen secretes keep the hive in a state of activity and, when needed, start the growing of a new queen, return a swarm to the hive if the queen is not with that swarm and increase the collection of nectar.
The workers, on the other hand, secrete pheromones to give warnings of danger, to increase each other’s aggressiveness when defending the hive and to mark good nectar sources, water sources that do not have a natural odour identification as well as the flight opening of the hive, the path to a new flight opening and the landing spot for the swarm.
The larvae in the open cells secrete pheromones that increase the workers’ pollen gathering. With the aid of this larvae pheromone, the feeding bees also recognize the gender, the status and the age of the larvae.
A bee uses dance-like movements to inform the other bees of the distance and direction of the source of nourishment that it has found in respect to the hive. A dancing bee runs various and various-sized loops, it twists and wriggles depending on the type and the location of the source of nourishment. Also the duration of the dance depends on the quantity and the distance of the source. The bees do not even inform the others of very small sources. The further away the source is from the hive, the slower the tempo and the less the bee dances. Field bees do not leave as soon as they see one dance; they watch several dances. In other words, they see more of the dances that refer to nearby plants and then head to those plants first. Sound and electric impulses also inform the bees about the distance.
The direction is also indicated in the dance. In other words, the direction of the bee’s run in relation to gravity is the same as the direction of the source of nourishment in relation to the sun horizontally. A flower that is in the direction of the sun is indicated by dancing in a down-up direction in the hive; when the sun and flower are on opposite sides of the hive, the direction of the dance is in an up-down direction. Other directions are indicated by either running right or left from a vertical starting point at the same angle as the source of nourishment is located in relation to the sun as seen from the hive. The bees get all other information on the source of nourishment from the smell that has stuck to the dancing bee and from the nectar that it has carried.
DID YOU KNOW: Bees find a flower that has been indicated with the dance with great accuracy: the error in distance is 150 metres at most, and the error in direction is normally less than 15 degrees. Small imprecision is actually practical, since plants normally grow over wider areas and not only in one particular location. The bee’s dance also indicates the time when nourishment will be available and, therefore, the bees know the optimal time for when the flower will be secreting nectar.