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A True Bee Language

Bee Culture – October, 2000 – pages 6-7

Scientists have puzzled for years on just how honey bees communicate. It has been amply demonstrated that ants, another social insect with remarkable similarities to bees, transmit information on food sources by odor. VonFrisch’s classical work seemed to show that bees communicate food source information through “language” – dances and sound. The language theory was questioned in the 1970s by Adrian Wenner who proposed that odor is indeed the means by which bees communicate food source information. A number of tests by Wenner supposedly proved his hypothesis.

Wenner’s work has been ignored or questioned by many in the scientific community but recent studies should put an end to the controversy.

Scientists in Belgium, using electron microscopes have discovered tiny etchings at the bottom of bee comb cells. At first, these marks were thought to be random, but careful study has revealed a true bee language. The markings are believed to be made by specialized workers that researchers have temporarily dubbed “Library bees.”

The markings appear to be of uniform size, like letters in an alphabet, and when run through a computer they fall into a pattern consistent with that of a language. Working day and night with high-speed computers, researchers have found that every hive or colony has a basic textbook or bee language, starting with a chapter on “Where do you go when you first emerge?” and including chapters such as “Pollen or nectar you decide” and “What to do on a rainy day.” These texts have been shown to be virtually identical among hives from widely different locations, although slight variations have been reported – in a colony from Africa, for example, a chapter entitled “Controlling aggression, good or bad?” was found.

Scientists are now looking at what appears to be a text at the bottom of queen cells entitled “The History of our Species.” One chapter of particular interest in this latest text has resisted efforts at decoding. but it appears to detail how bees have used mankind to spread their genes.

Needless to say, scientists are very excited about these latest discoveries which should put an end to the language controversy for all time. Significantly, Wenner has been noticeably silent on these new findings.

Submitted by Joe Traynor
Bakersfield, CA