The Waggle Dance
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
A well-kept garden requires a vibrant presence of bees to pollinate the plants for maximum yield of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Bees find your garden through a process called the waggle dance that occurs on the hive. When a honeybee scout finds a good nectar source of blooming flowers, she returns to the hive to notify the other bees. To communicate the exact location of the nectar source, the scout bee performs the waggle dance. In the waggle dance, the scout bee literally dances across the vertical comb of the hive in a distinct pattern. During the straight line of her dance, called the waggle run, she shakes her tail vigorously to a certain rhythm.
At the end of the waggle run, she turns left, circles back to the beginning and repeats the dance. The next time she turns to the right, circles back, and then repeats this fascinating figure eight pattern. The bees of the hive surround her and watch the dance intently. The number of waggles she makes with her tail indicates the precise distance to the nectar source. This communication of distance through waggling is accurate almost to the inch, even when the nectar source is nearly a mile away. To show direction, the line of the waggle run points toward the nectar source relative to the sun. Bees use the sun to navigate. The waggle dance creates a precise angle between the sun, the hive, and nectar source, for the bees to follow. As the day progresses and the sun moves through the sky, the scout bee changes the angle of her waggle to accommodate the changing position of the sun!
When the bees of the hive are clear on distance and direction, they force the scout bee to stop, so each bee can taste the nectar on her mouth to know which flower they are seeking. The bees fly back and forth from the hive to the nectar source on a straight line, called the bee line. The bees harvest nectar from this source until a new waggle dance points them to a new source of nectar. To attract bees to your garden, plant flowers that bees love, such as nasturtiums, marigolds, Queen Anne’s lace, cosmos, sunflowers, and blue borage. Let some of your basil, dill, and cilantro go to flower—bees love these herbal flowers. Make sure to plant a wide variety of flowers so there is always something blooming to attract bees.
Flowers bring successive waves of color and fragrance to your garden. These flowers may inspire a waggle dance on a beehive near you, pointed directly at your garden.