One of the most famous findings in animal behaviour is that the dance of honeybees in the hive is correlated with the location of their food. The dance depends on the distance of the food, the direction of the food, the quality of the food, and, according to a new paper by Abbot and Dukas, how dangerous the food is.
Strictly speaking, it’s not that the food is dangerous (although that’s kind of what the title of the paper implies), but that the food is in a location that has cues that the bee associates with danger. Abbot and Dukas set artificial flowers for bees to find and feed at. At one flower – the “dangerous” flower – they placed two “recently killed” bees. Then they waited back at the five and recorded the dances of the bees that had visited those flowers. They also alternated which flower had the corpses.
The bees visiting the “dangerous” flower were significantly less likely to dance at all, and when they did, they dance for shorter periods of time.
The authors interpret this result as bees being sensitive to “predation risk.” This is perhaps a little too specific. My impression is that when something preys on a small insect, there usually isn’t much of a corpse left behind.
This is an very interesting finding, but the paper is disappointing because it is so slight. This is one simple experiment. It wouldn’t have killed the authors to run a few more experiments, because there are a bunch of very, very obvious ones to do. This is surely a classic case of authors “salami slicing” down a longer series of studies into tiny minimum publishable units.
Abbott, K., & Dukas, R. (2009). Honeybees consider flower danger in their waggle dance Animal Behaviour DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.05.029