Buzzt a Move

It’s not just birds, buds, and flowers appearing at this time of year. With the opening of the petals comes the buzzing of Apis mellifera, the honeybee, getting ready to make the honey that will sweeten our tea and provide buzzing hives with food for the year.

Honeybees are a social crowd. The hive is made up of a fertile Queen bee, sterile female worker bees, and fertile male drones. The Queen and drones make more baby bees, while the workers provide the hive with the raw materials of honey, the nectar they collect from flowers. The beehive can look like an incredibly chaotic place, but with thousands of individuals whose survival depends on their collective efforts, a hive is structured and highly organized. A hive that works together, stays together.

To do this, honeybees have developed their own language to alert their bee brethren of adequate lodging or nectar hot spots. They dance! It’s true, bees can really move their feet, all six of them! Scout bees perform “waggle dances” that can tell a hive where they’ve found their loot. The dances tell other bees how far away and in what direction things are, whether it’s a new site for a hive to live, or a particularly attractive swath of flowers. Other scout bees will leave the hive and check it out, returning to perform the dance in agreement, or advertise for other sites that could be suitable to the hive’s needs.

When one hive begins to outgrow its home, waggle dances are used to choose new home sites. Scout bees will suggest multiple sites by searching for nooks and crannies, then returning to the hive to dance to other scouts, revealing the location of potential real estate. Once several sites are suggested, the majority will rule on the best one. Scout bees look for several components when searching for their dream home, including a site out of the reach of any land predators, a narrow opening to the hive, and a large enough cavity for a hive to grow and store enough honey to last over a winter. Once a site is chosen, part of the existing hive swarms to follow a newly hatched queen to its new home, leaving the remainder of the original hive and queen to continue buzzing at the original site.

To perform your own bee waggle dance, you just have to move in a figure-eight pattern while shaking your booty. It helps if you have six legs, and a furry, striped, segmented body, but those are certainly not requirements! Try it sometime, and if you want to provide something to dance about in your own backyard, plant native pollinator plants for your local bees to take advantage of. Here in Massachusetts plants like bee balm (Monarda), phlox, and asters are great choices. And remember, BEE kind to our boogie-ing, buzzing buds!

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