Foragers will perform the waggle dance during swarming season to propose suitable new nest sites. The waggle dance is also the way successful foragers share information with the colony about nectar/pollen sources, water or propolis. For close sources less than 50m from the hive, bees tend to use a round dance, although confusingly this can also have a short waggle segment! Dancing bees release a pheromone to alert their siblings nearby of the importance of this message. Dancing bees will indicate the quality of their source by the frequency of the waggle and the amount of pheromone release. They can also provide small samples of the source product to nearby bees to allow independent assessment of the quality. These bees will also perform the dance if they approve of the source. In this way, when multiple dances are occuring simultaneously, a democratic process ensures the best, closest sources are exploited first.
As all comb within the hive is orientated in the same direction, the angle of the dance in relation to vertical represents the angle of flight in relation to the sun. The length of the dance is proportional to the distance involved, with 1s of dance roughly equal to 1Km of flight. This allows observer foragers to work out the correct direction and distance to fly.
This is all remarkably clever for such a small navigator, considering we as humans pride ourselves on our complex communications. What is more amazing is that observer bees can also remember a time component, as if they try to find the source hours later, the sun will be in a different position in the sky. The bees understand this and change the angle of flight accordingly so they can find the source.
Photo Credit © Stamp Design Royal Mail Group Ltd (2015)