Bee “Language” Again?

ABJ – September 2000 – Volume 140/No. 9

A letter by Dan Hendricks, “Honey Bee Dance Language,” in the July issue of ABJ confused what otherwise could be a clear issue. A year and a half ago I mailed him a packet of published material that documented how recruits search for the odor of food sources, just as von Frisch had made abundantly clear in 1937. Unfortunately, Hendricks singled out one statement from a 1970 publication of mine in order to criticize the whole body of evidence sent to him.

The renowned French physiologist Claude Bernard encountered the same unbalanced treatment almost 150 years ago and wrote (1865):

“Among the artifices of criticism, many do not concern us because they are extra-scientific; one of them … consists in considering in a piece of work only what is [presumably] defective and open to attack, while neglecting or concealing what is valid and important.”

In his letter Hendricks concluded: “…researchers have been unable to demonstrate that there is no other plausible explanation [than dance language] for how bees find flowers!” In so writing, he missed the significance of von Frisch’s 1937 conclusion on the matter (p. 35):

“It is clear from a long series of experiments that after the commencement of the dances the bees first seek in the neighborhood, and then go farther away, and finally search the whole flying district. … So the language of bees seemed to be very simple.” and “In performing this experiment I succeeded with all kinds of flowers with the exception of flowers without any scent. And so it is not difficult to find out the manner of communication. When the collecting bee alights on the scented flowers to suck up the food, the scent of the flower is taken up by its body-surface hairs, and when it dances after homing the interested bees following the movements of the dancer bee and holding their antennae against its body, perceive the specific scent on its body and know what kind of scent must be sought to find the food feeding-place announced by the dancing bee. That this view is correct can be proved easily.” (von Frisch, 1937 – see Wenner, 1993).

The 1988 three-part series that I published in ABJ (Oct, Nov, Dec issues – mostly a summary of Larry Friesen’s work) was thus merely a logical extension of some of von Frisch’s earlier work. Those who wish to examine relevant material, some of which I sent Hendricks earlier, can access the following web site: <http://www.beesource.comlpov/wenner/index.htm>


Bernard, C. (1957). An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Dover, NY. Original work, 1865.

Frisch, K. von. (1937). The language of bees. Science Progress. 32:29-37 (Reprinted in Wenner, 1993).

Wenner, A. M. [with K. von Frisch] (1993). The language of bees. Bee World. 74:90-98.

Dr. Adrian Wenner
Santa Barbara, CA