(Yes, that was a Sir Elton John reference.)
I’m fixing to blow your mind.
Honey bees utilize basic geometry and perceive quantitative distances and angles.
And they communicate with each other about it.
|OH look. A little poster you should print out!|
The bee does a little dance, called a waggle dance. Let’s put ourselves in a bee’s shoes for a minute. Say you just found a nectary patch of daisies and arrive back at the hive.
First step in the waggle dance is to cling to the side of the hive and acclimate yourself however many degrees from the vector for “up,” or the opposite of the pull of gravity, according to how many degrees from the direction of the sun you found the nectar. Say you went 45 degrees to the left of the sun to find your daises. In that case, you turn your body 45 degrees to the left of up. Okay- now you’re ready to boogie.
Now, you waggle your butt as fast as you possibly can and walk a straight line along your angle. It’s very important how long you take to do this; you’re telling the other bees how far away the flowers were. One second of this waggle phase represents one kilometer of distance. So, if you waggle for a quarter of a second, then you’re telling everyone that the flowers are 250 meters away.
Next, you turn to the right and walk back to your starting point. Do another waggle, and turn to the left and loop back to your starting point. However many times you do this tells everyone how worth it it is to find this nectar. If you found a butt load of nectar, you’ll want to waggle plenty of times to get your point across. Otherwise, a few waggles will do.
And this actually works. This is an actual thing that bees do. Bees are mathematically perceptive. To me, this is totally insane.
Also, what makes this story cool, is that the bees give a damn at all. So many times in the animal kingdom, you see intense resource competition amongst conspecifics. Like when an eagle finds a fish and has to fight other eagles from taking it away from him. Or when a mean girl asks me where I got my brand new cute shoes, I’m going to lie and tell her WalMart. (I’m not proud. But don’t be scamming on my cute shoes! I worked hard to find them on zappos.com.) Why should bees give away their nectar findings to each other?
But bees are social animals, and structured into social tiers. Worker bees exist only to collect nectar for the good of the hive. Workers cannot reproduce, and therefore have no real motivation to be selfishly competitive for resources. Their instinctual interest is that of the hive, making working together essential. Ah lah, the evolution of this amazing cooperative communication system.