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“Language?”

Date: Sat, 24 Feb 1996
From: Andy Nachbaur
Organization: WILD BEE’S BBS (209) 826-8107 LOS BANOS, CA
Subject: “Language” ???

> Philosophers, such as myself, wonder what differentiates bee
> language from human language. And whether bee language,
> and indeed human language, genuinely constitutes language
> at all.

Well, xxxx, I ain’t got no philosophizers in my bee kit, but bee’s do communicate. I think their language is more basic then some would like to make it out to be. When the weather changes they have no problem letting me know with their barbed rears. But like the dance I do when this happens it could be misinterpret by any native American’s watching as a war dance as I fumble around for my veil and more smoker fuel.

When the wind is right and the aroma of citrus or eucalyptus nectar is in the air, my bee’s get the message an will fly miles to fill up, sometime’s so far that more in honey stores are used then honey gained from the fresh nectar gathered. A warm afternoon during the almond bloom will see bee’s find orchards miles from any know beehives. There has never been a almond orchard in California that did not have honey bees in the flower’s during bloom when the weather is good enough for flight during bloom.

I guess the bees communicate with nature through odors, pheromones, and the like. Some of these we beekeepers can learn to identify by experience, others are probably easily identified by the bee’s but not experienced by us at all. I am sure each area has it’s own set of plants that can be identified by both beekeepers and bee’s through olfactory senses. One that has always’s amazed me in central California foot hills is the tar weeds which produce a powerful oder in our hot dry late summers when in bloom. This one is so strong that just driving into an apiary and crushing plants as you do will confuse the bee’s so much they will actually quit working. I have always wondered why and could it be that the added burden of aromatic fumes disrupts the bee’s to the extent that bee’s in the field can not find their way back? The oder of tar weed plants is so strong that it may mask the hive oder itself and in commercial apiaries, queenless and weak hives are easily identified after a tar weed flow as they will be dead.

I suspect that the first wave of nectar/pollen collector bee’s out of the hive each morning follow their noise to some extent, and if noting is in the wind them range out and visit new flowers if they can be found each morning and return with the good news or bad news and other’s get the sent of nectar or pollen from these bee’s and follow it back out in the field. The bee dance is fun, reminds me of beekeepers here in this great desert when it rains, more then once I have joined other beekeepers in the rain dance. One reason we all have tin roofs on our honey house’s is so we don’t miss a drop, and it only takes a few to
empty the shop to stand in and marvel at the rain. We only have one short wet season, and any rain is promise of honey in the bucket for us.

A honey wind is no fun to work in but one of the most productive locations I ever had was so windy that I would have to take extra help to load the bees out using a boom loader with two men on the end of a rope, and these hives were not light. This spot was so windy that one would not expect bee’s to fly much at all. It was at time enough strong enough to blow 150 lb hives of bees off the truck. I only used the location for a few years as it was on a cultivated hillside and I could not make it up the hill if it was being farmed. Anyway the wind was so great here the bees would land on fence posts down wind from the apiary and the wild buckwheat they were working after over flying the apiary. These clusters of bee’s would grow to be swarms as big as a man and they would find their way home when the wind died down, sometimes days later.

On a moderate wind day the loaded bee’s would come in and land in the short dry grazed off grass fifty to one hundred feet from the hives and march in like ants to the closest hives. Looked like a real disaster from the drifting stand point but it evened out as the wind changed directions from day to day. I don’t know what this has to do with bee language other then the signal that nectar was out there for the collection was great enough to overcome elements that would keep a prudent beekeeper at home. I believe much of this is on the wind, a honey wind so to speak, bee’s communicate with nature, and if they do a dance it’s my guess it could be more a celebration of a full pollen pouch or honey sack, and not really a message to all the other fielder’s, as there really is not that much dancing going on in the hives and you have to believe that if information was being passed it was also being decoded and passed to all the field bee’s in some way not explained by the bee dance itself.

The bee’s do dance, thats a fact.. I have just seen too many things that happen in a beehive and the environs it is kept concerning pheromones and oder’s that cause me to believe that communications if you want to call it that is a complicated system of detecting and interpretation of oders. I think some more scientific study is being done on this in Europe at this time, maybe someday we will more about these systems.

ttul Andy-

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