Bees’ Methods of Communication
Scientists have performed a great deal of research to determine how the order is maintained in the hive, in which tens of thousands of bees live. A large number of academic studies have been carried out to that end as well. One prominent expert and professor at the University of Munich, the Australian zoologist Karl von Frisch, has devoted an entire 350-page book to bee communication,The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees.
How Do Bees Communicate?
To find food, bees must usually search wide areas and fly long distances. When a bee finds a new source of food, it immediately returns to the hive to inform the other members of the colony. Shortly afterwards, other bees begin flying around the source.
Bees are deaf, and cannot therefore establish communications by means of sound.72 Nevertheless, they are able to communicate the location of a food source to the other members of the colony with no difficulty. The methods they employ are quite extraordinary.
Scientists studying how bees inform each other of the places they find made a most astonishing discovery. Bees “describe” the location of a distant place by dancing. All the information that other bees need to find the food source—its distance from the hive, its direction, productivity—is encoded in this dance.
Once it locates a new food source, the bee returns to the hive and starts repeating specific movements in such a way as to attract the other bees’ attention. All the information they need about the food source can be obtained from the bee’s general behavior.
For instance, if a bee simply returns to the hive, deposits its load of collected pollen and flies off again, this means that the source that the bee used is either already known or else not very productive. At times when water is scarce, they’ll also use this dance to describe the location of water.73
The Bee Dance
The bee dance takes two distinct forms, depending on the distance of the food source.
The form known as the “round dance,” encountered most frequently, doesn’t bother to indicate the food source’s distance and direction. It does, however, tell the workers that the source is closer than 15 meters (50 feet) from the nest. Having located a food source, the bee first gives nectar to the workers in the nest, and then begins her dance, repeatedly making small circles. The other bees then gather around the dancer. She reverses direction and turns around the other way every one or two revolutions, or even more often. This dance, which can last for a few seconds or up to minutes, consists of up to 20 reversals and is followed by another exchange of nectar between the dancer and the bees in the nest.
Eventually the dance comes to an end. The dancing bee flies off to look for another source of food. In one experiment, Karl von Frisch showed that of the 174 bees who made contact with the dancing bee, 155 found the food source within five minutes.74
The bees perform their dances on the vertical comb, in the darkness of the hive—most important in helping us better understand bees’ flawless abilities to communicate. In the pitch dark, bees give the other workers around them all the information they could possibly need about the food source. Although their movements on the combs are performed in darkness, they are still correctly perceived by their fellows and immediately followed up.
In the same way that bees perform a round dance for food sources within 15 meters of the hive, they perform “transition” dances for sources from 25 to 100 meters (80 to 330 feet) away. They use the “waggle” dance, what’s also known as the “figure-eight dance,” to notify other bees of the distance, direction and quality of food sources further than 100 meters (330 feet) from their hive.
When the bees return to the hive from the food source, they perform this dance on top of the honeycombs. As the workers take their steps, they also shake their abdomens. The form of this characteristic movement closely resembles a figure-eight. In a typical dance, the bee moves in a straight line for a short distance, moving its body from side to side approximately 13 to 15 times a second.
By varying the angle between the waggling run and an imaginary line running straight up and down, the bee conveys the direction of the food source. If a line is drawn which connects the food source and the hive, and another line which connects the hive and the spot on the horizon immediately below the sun, then the angle formed by the two is observed to be the same as that of the angle in the waggle dance. Just like civil engineers, the bees are able to triangulate.75
Throughout the oscillatory movement in the waggle dance, the bee’s abdomen is the most important organ. A buzzing sound is given off thanks to vibrations from the muscles and exoskeleton. At the end of each straight line, the bee turns in one direction and makes a semi-circular return to her starting point. She then moves forward again in a straight line, making a semi-circular return in the exact opposite direction.
As with the round dance, the waggle dance ends with the dancer stopping and distributing food from its honey stomach to the workers around it. The bees watching the dance may sometimes produce a sound lasting from a tenth to two-tenths of a second. This causes the dancer to stop and exchange food with the buzzing bees. Both nectar and pollen gatherers dance in the same way.
The bees watching this dance are easily able to locate the food source. One feature that establishes distance is the dance tempo, measured by the number of turns every 15 seconds, and the duration of waggling and buzzing on every straight line. For more distant food sources, the dance tempo slows and speeds up for closer ones. The time spent in the straight run increases for more distant sources.76
Throughout the dance, the other bees crowd around the one “dancing this description” and follow its every move. They also touch its waggling abdomen with their antennae. This movement is most important, because they perceive the vibrations produced by the dancer and thus establish the distance of the food source.77 In order to describe a distance of 250 meters (820 feet), for instance, the bee will shake its abdomen 5 times in 30 seconds. It has been observed that by means of these dances, bees are able to inform one another of food sources at distances of up to 9 to 10 kilometers (5 to 6 miles).
For bees, another essential piece of information is the quality of the food at the source. This they obtain thanks to the scent that has settled on the bee performing the dance.
In the light of the information thus communicated, it is an easy matter for the other bees to find the food source. The number of bees that gather at the source is directly proportionate to the number of bees performing the dance. If a single bee performs it, the whole hive does not go into action. First, a group of scouts leaves the hive. If that group also performs the dance on their return, then more bees head towards the target. The better the food source they find, the longer they dance and the more bees follow them. In this way the food gatherers’ attention is always focused on the most productive source.
In the event that the food source found is unproductive, the bees still dance—but they do so unwillingly, and for a shorter time. This is also reflected to the other bees in the hive, and those bees that gathered around the dancer soon disperse, and a new team leaves the hive in search of food.
Consider that the honeybees that perform the dance are just a few centimeters long, the same insects you encounter when you go outside, walk in your garden or sits out on a balcony. There’s an interesting contradiction here. People regard honeybees as ordinary, familiar insects, yet the phenomena we have seen so far can only be carried out with a very definite consciousness. Were you to ask human beings to give the same directions that the bee does by dancing, they would be nowhere near as successful. That’s because although human beings possess reason and consciousness, they lack the ability to perform such minute calculations without technical measuring equipment.
So who teaches bees this conscious behavior? They cannot learn it from other bees, and there is no training period in their brief lives. They come into the world already possessed of this knowledge, able to act upon it when the time comes. That applies to all the bees on Earth, who have been living on it for tens of millions of years.
We therefore find ourselves facing a major truth that no person of good conscience can possibly deny: God, the Creator of all living things, has flawlessly created honeybees and taught them such conscious behavior. As revealed in Surat an-Nahl, they act in accordance with the inspiration of our Lord.
To fully comprehend the significance of the description that bees make by dancing, we need to consider their movements in the hive and their overall environment. In her book Through Our Eyes Only?: The Search for Animal Consciousness, the evolutionist author Marian Stamp Dawkins discusses how the bees give these directions:
The problem the bees have is that they often dance on the inside of a dark hive where neither the food itself nor the sun is visible. Not only that, but they are dancing on a vertical comb when information has to be given to the other bees about which direction they should fly in the horizontal plane.78
Although the bees giving the directions dance on a vertical surface, the bees going out to seek the food source will operate in a horizontal plane. In other words, the information about which direction they must take should actually be expressed in a horizontal plane. If the bees were to act according to directions given in a vertical plane, then they would fly straight upwards, and it would be totally impossible for them to find any food.
In her book, Dawkins continues:
The bees cannot, therefore, indicate the direction of food by simply pointing or dancing towards it. They translate the flight path from hive to food (which will eventually be taken relative to the sun) into a direction relative to gravity inside the hive and the other bees retranslate this back into instructions relative to the sun when they get outside. So if the food is to be found by flying directly into the sun, the dancer will dance so that she does the straight “waggle” run precisely vertically on the comb, whereas if the food is to be found by flying at an angle of 40 degrees to the west of the sun, she waggles 40 degrees to the left of straight vertical. She thus substitutes angle with respect to vertical for angle with respect to the sun and conveys, in the darkness of the hive, information to her companions as to the direction they should fly when they get out into the sunlight.79
Consider: Bees fully understand the directions, even those are given in the dark and in a different plane, and always head straight towards their target. The movements made with respect to a vertical line established by the dancing bee are fully understood by the others, which are capable of calculating angles.
In light of this, Dawkins expresses her thoughts in these terms:
In short, all honeybees are able to calculate angles. Dawkins interprets this as bees conveying information to each other. However, there are important questions that require an answer. How did bees discover this method of calculation? Is it possible for the bee, simply by looking at the Sun, to distinguish between vertical and horizontal, to add the angle to the direction it gives, and always to do so accurately? How did other bees gain the ability to interpret this? How did they first learn to use the Sun as a reference?
Obviously, bees cannot calculate planes and angles and other such mathematical functions on their own. There is only one explanation for all these complex abilities in bees. Bees are directed by a superior power, which belongs to God, Ruler of all the universe, Who gives bees all their sophisticated attributes.
How Do Bees Find Their Way in Cloudy Weather?
As bees fly towards their food source, they observe the Sun. This is essential if the scout bees are to make use of the angle and direction indicated in the dance.
Yet bees are not limited to this remarkable achievement, and engage in activities even more extraordinary. Even if the weather is cloudy, they can use the Sun by means of its ultraviolet rays, which are able to pass through cloud cover as long as it is not too thick. The worker bees use these rays to establish the location of the Sun. The natural light from the Sun is polarized, in other words, the direction of vibrations of the light waves changes regularly as the Sun moves in the sky. This polarization cannot be seen by the human eye, although bees and many other living things can perceive it. Cloudy weather that makes the Sun invisible represents no obstacle to these creatures. Despite the clouds, bees think of the sky as being parceled up, and calculate where the Sun should be at a given moment.81 No doubt, this attribute is one of the examples of God’s superior creation that enables bees to survive.
The Directions Given by Bees are Totally Accurate
As stated earlier, shortly after watching the dancing bee, other workers leave the hive and head off for the target. However, bees also face an important problem: The angle that the dancer gave to her sisters is based on the Sun. Yet the Sun is not fixed in the sky, but changes position by 1 degree every 4 minutes. If a bee followed the original line, it would never be able to locate its target, due to the shift in the Sun’s position. Every 4 minutes will bring a margin of error of 1 degree, which will reach uncorrectable dimensions over a long journey.
This presents no problem over short distances, say over 200 meters (650 feet). A bee flies at an average of 13 kilometers (8 miles) an hour, traveling 216 meters, or 708 feet a minute.82
But what if the target is more than 4 minutes away?
As already said, bees can collect food from an area 10-kilometers (6.2 miles) wide. They must fly for about 45 minutes to cover 10 kilometers.83 During that time, however, the Sun will move some 11 degrees. If the bee follows the direction given by the original dancing bee, then it will be deflected from the food source as the Sun changes position. In returning to the hive, a bee that has traveled a distance of 10 kilometers bears in mind the position of the food source in relation to that of the Sun. Moreover, since this bee is carrying food, it must travel more slowly, at 9 kilometers/hour (5.6 miles/hour).84 That means that during the bee’s return, the Sun will have moved 16.5 degrees. Therefore, the bee’s directions relative to the Sun may possibly be wrong. Add the 16.5-degree discrepancy of the bee performing the dance to the 11-degree margin of error of the bee setting out, and the bee may end up 27.5 degrees away from the food source.
Moreover, if the bee fails to find any food source after traveling that distance, she will not have the strength to get back, because bees only take as much honey as they will use for that distance, in order to return with more food from their destination. When that honey is used up, their strength also evaporates. If they’re unable to reach nectar, they’ll be unable to return from a lack of energy.
Yet in reality, this never happens. For millions of years now, bees have been understanding the directions given to them by their sisters—despite the movement of the Sun and the changing angles. Bees experience no difficulties in finding sources of food, indicating that they make no mistakes in calculating the angle with respect to the Sun. To express this in mathematical terms, the bees calculate that the Sun moves 1 degree every 4 minutes. As a result, they’re able to keep the food source’s exact location in mind and to “describe” it to other bees. Other bees calculate the angle according to the changed position of the Sun, understand those directions given, and locate the food source in question.
A careful re-reading of the preceding paragraph will show the extraordinary nature of these directions given by bees. It will be useful to consider those words not with their usual familiarity, but one by one, imagining what is being described, and using our reason, logic and conscience. Very few people are even aware of exactly how much the position of the Sun changes in how many minutes. Yet bees, as if they were conscious of all this, perform a precisely accurate mathematical calculation, accurate to the minute and even to the second. Is it at all possible for a bee to perform, of its own volition, such a calculation, which even a human who’s not an expert on the subject could not manage? Of course not! That ability has been given to bees by God. To claim otherwise would violate all the rules of reason and logic. Someone who maintains that bees learned such a calculation by themselves during some alleged “process of evolution” must also claim that in hundreds of years’ time, again through that same process, bees will be able to solve equations better than even the best-skilled academics. No one could possibly make such a claim, and we would have grave doubts about the sanity of anyone who did.
How Did Bees Learn to Calculate?
As we have seen so far, bees calculate in various different ways and use the Sun in doing so. It is quite impossible for an insect to know about the movements of the Earth and Sun, to know the consequences, and act accordingly. It’s out of the question for bees to be getting these calculations right every time by sheer chance. Nevertheless, all scientists who have researched the subject agree that bees have indeed been performing these calculations with complete accuracy for millions of years.
Unless someone has received the appropriate training, if he gets lost, he’ll need some equipment such as a compass to find his way. It is almost impossible for him to find his way by calculating the exact position of the Sun. Yet despite the Sun being in constant motion, a bee can describe the site it’s visited, in a flawlessly correct manner, to other bees in the hive.
How could these extraordinary abilities have come about? How did bees learn to perform these calculations?
First, bees must have possessed an ability to find their way and to give directions to other bees, ever since the moment they first appeared on Earth. This ability is essential if they are to meet their needs for food and shelter—and thus, for their very survival.
It is impossible for this ability to have developed over time by means of various changes, as evolutionists would have us believe. Indeed, scientists supporting the theory of evolution find themselves faced with the very difficult question of how bees’ communication abilities came into existence. Richard Dawkins, one of the leading contemporary evolutionists, is clearly “bewildered” by the question of the evolution of the bee dance, but attempts to provide an answer in these faltering terms:
As can be seen from Dawkins’ faulty logic in reply to this question, it can only be fantasy to talk about the bee dance in terms of “chance” and “transition.”
Making use of the Sun to calculate angles is an ability that cannot be acquired by chance. However, it’s not enough for bees to learn to dance or to be able to calculate angles; they also need the other bees to be able to understand them. Bearing this in mind, you can see how totally nonsensical it would be to think in terms of “chance.” No matter how long one might wait, it’s quite impossible for any creature to form such a calculating ability of its own accord.
The bee is a creature with no capacity for thought. Nevertheless, as we have seen throughout, its every action reveals an incomparable intelligence and consciousness. As with every aspect of the universe, this intelligence and consciousness that manifest themselves in bees actually belong to God, the flawless Creator of all.
The Bees’ Eye
When scientists realized that bees make use of the Sun, they began researching how they find their way. First of all, the bee’s eye was examined, and was found to possess a structure that allows these calculations to be performed.
The worker bee’s eye is a very complex organ with 6,900 facets, known as ommatidia, each carrying out separate visual processes. Each one of these acts like an individual eye, and they stand aligned together, rather like straws in a bucket. Each one ends in a small, convex, transparent lens.86 These lenses form the outer, glassy and oval-shaped surface of the eye. As well as the two compound eyes on either side of their head, a bee also has three simple eyes atop its head. It’s estimated that these latter three are used to measure the strength of the light. The bee’s eye is superior to the human eye in two respects: it can see ultraviolet light and perceive the plane of light polarization.87
These are the features that let bees determine the location and angles of the Sun. Thanks to them, they’re able to correct the directions they give to other hive members and find their targets without error as the Sun moves through the sky.
Before the foraging bees return to the hive, they deposit a special scent on their food source. Every worker has a scent gland in its body, which it can use at will. This gland, which is located at the rear of the bee, under normal circumstances is invisible from the outside. The bee can expose this gland when it so chooses, and spreads the gland’s scent over the flower it lands on and its surroundings. This scent resembles the aroma of the Melissa plant and can easily be perceived by human beings. Bees are especially sensitive to the odor of bees from their own hives, and can detect it even from considerable distances.88
Thanks to the way in which bees mark flowers, other bees can recognize that most of the nectar has been drawn from a particular flower as soon as they land on it, and they immediately fly off again, and thus avoid wasting time and energy.
Flower Fertilization and Bees
If you watch bees gathering food in a field full of various flowers, something very interesting may catch your attention. A bee always moves between flowers of one particular species. It pays no attention to other kinds of flower as it flies from one to another.
Bees sometimes spend days visiting flowers of the same species, which behavior benefits both them and the flowers. A bee that lands on a flower for the first time and is unfamiliar with that flower’s structure must spend a considerable time in order to find a single drop of nectar. But after landing on the same kind of flower five or six times, the bee begins to gain speed and competence, since it is able to attain its aim more easily.
This also benefits the flowers, because bees’ preference for a single species permits rapid and efficient fertilization. Pollen from one flower cannot fertilize other species, and flowers are fertilized only by the bees traveling between the members of the same species. Bees make use of scent in order to find flowers of the same species.
At this point, it will be useful to touch on the subject of how fertilization takes place. As we know, bees visit flowers to collect both pollen and nectar, but in gathering pollen, they perform a vital function for the flowers: fertilization. In order to produce seeds, a flower’s female reproductive organ has to unite with male gametes, enclosed in pollen grains. In other words, a quantity of pollen must unite with the stigma—the sticky tip of the female organ. Flowers are generally unable to transport pollen in their male stamens onto their own stigmas. The requisite union takes place thanks to insects, thus forming the seeds that will form new plants and new flowers.89
As we have seen, there is a very close connection between flowers and bees. Both have been created by God to complement one another. For example, flowers, which need to be fertilized by insects, produce nectar which will attract insects to them, and it is this which also attracts bees. Furthermore, flowers also attract insects by means of their scents or bright colors.
This relationship between bees and flowers is also exceedingly important for us humans, because beekeeping is of great importance to agriculture. A great many fruit trees and crops are fertilized by bees to a large extent. For that reason, some experts regard bees’ contribution in this regard as more important than their production of honey. In the light of this, the verses in Surat an-Nahl about honeybees immediately come to mind, in which God reveals the way in which bees eat from all fruits:
Your Lord revealed to the bees: “Build dwellings in the mountains and the trees, and also in the structures which men erect. Then eat from every kind of fruit and travel the paths of your Lord, which have been made easy for you to follow.” From inside them comes a drink of varying colors, containing healing for humanity. There is certainly a sign in that for people who reflect. (Surat an-Nahl: 68-69)
Other insects as well as bees fertilize flowers. Yet because of their large numbers, industriousness and the suitability of their bodies, bees can carry relatively greater amounts of pollen than other insects. A large part of agriculture depends on the pollination carried out by bees; indeed, some 80% of insect pollination is the work of bees. Did that pollination fail to take place, there would be a major reduction in the amount of fruit and vegetables produced.
Harmony Between Bees and Flowers
Though bees play a most important role in flower fertilization, there are some flowers that they cannot pollinate. For example, since bees cannot distinguish the color red, they are unable to seek out—and pollinate— red flowers. Some all-red flowers, such as sweet bay, red carnations and wild flax, are pollinated by other insects. Besides their colors, these species of flower have other characteristics that also prevent their being pollinated by bees. These species’ nectar lies deep down in the flower. Insects seeking to pollinate these flowers must possess special organs in order to reach these flowers’ internal regions. And of course, these insects must also be able to see the color red. In other words, the insects that will pollinate these flowers need to possess both a special organ to allow them to reach down into the depths of the flower, and eyes that can perceive the color red. In nature, only two species of insect can perceive the color red—wasps and butterflies, and moreover, both these insects possess a long proboscis with which they can reach down into the deepest parts of the flower.90
It’s of course meaningless to try to account for such harmony in terms of blind chance. No random coincidence can give two different species of living thing physical properties so mutually compatible. This harmony proves that both were created by a single Creator: God created both to be mutually compatible.
72- Bilim ve Teknik Dergisi, Cilt 23, Sayı:269, Nisan 1990
73- Prof. Karl von Frisch, Arıların Hayatı, s. 135-136
74- Mark L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, Harvard Unv. Press, 1991, s.152
75- Discovery, Nov. 97, s. 87
76- Mark L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, Harvard Unv. Press, 1991, s.155
77- Marl L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, s. 154-156
78- Marian Stamp Dawkins, Hayvanların Sessiz Dünyası TÜB‹TAK, Popüler Bilim Kitapları, 1999, Ankara, s.137
79- Marian Stamp Dawkins, Hayvanların Sessiz Dünyası, s.137
80- Marian Stamp Dawkins, Hayvanların Sessiz Dünyası, s.137
81- Mark L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, Harvard Unv. Press, 1991, s.163-164
82- Prof.Dr.Ali Demirsoy, Yaflamın Temel Kuralları, Omurgasızlar/ Böcekler, Entomoloji Cilt II / Kısım -II, Ankara; s. 66
83- Mark L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, Harvard Unv. Press, 1991, s.171
84- Prof.Dr.Ali Demirsoy, Yaflamın Temel Kuralları, Omurgasızlar/ Böcekler, Entomoloji Cilt II / Kısım -II, Ankara; s.66
86- Mark L. Winston, The Biology of the Honey Bee, Harvard Unv. Press, 1991, s.15
87- Encyc. Americana, 1993, USA, Vol.3, Int. Headquartes, Danbury Connecticut, s.439
88- Prof. Karl von Frisch, Arıların Hayatı, s.143
89- Prof. Karl von Frisch, Arıların Hayatı, s.41
90- Prof. Karl von Frisch, Arıların Hayatı, s.31