Today we’re going to look at “the waggle dance,” and before you scoff, roll your eyes, and leave the page: no, we are not talking about a trending new dance craze! (Not yet, anyway!)

The remarkable journey we’ll take you on today starts with the fact that it is harvest season when we are publishing this article, and we owe almost everything we are eating this time of year to the most intrepid pollinators on the planet: bees.

Image: Bumble Bee dangling from a flower

Source: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

So where does the “waggle dance” fit into our enjoying crisp apples, thick squash, and plump tomatoes? Well, it is actually a real dance, with specific steps performed by bees to communicate to their friends where the best nectar sources are. And this is not just a fun fact. The waggle is directly or indirectly responsible for 80% of our food on earth, for without the waggle dance much of life on the planet could not exist.

I had no idea bees were that critical to the world’s food supply.

Almost as remarkable as the dance itself, is the fact that we humans have been able to figure out exactly what each variation of the dance means, but we’ll have more on that in a moment.

Why should we care about the Bees’ Waggle Dance?

The answer is twofold. First, the waggle dance reminds us that in the natural world there is no end to the things going on right under our noses that are critical to our existence. Ever since I did the research for this article I look at every bee like a precious wonder. Second, the dance demonstrates that knowledge is power. You may know that honey bees are in peril all around the world, but the more we know, the more we can turn the ship around on the health of bee populations.

So now that we’ve sprung that bit of negative detail on you, we are going to have some fun lifting you up to a new level of appreciation for these great little gems of the natural world. And I can’t wait to show you how some clever scientists have sorted this dance thing out!

First, a quick video to get us up to speed:

Okay, now that we are all on the same page about the “what?,” let’s get to “why?” and “how?” This video by Georgia Tech’s College of Computing tells the whole story in their video The Waggle Dance of the Honey Bee:

Why We Should Care More

The waggle dance is incredible, but what’s the bigger picture?

CNN’s Marla Spivak wrote an excellent article called What will happen if the bees disappear? Here’s a quote:

“The bees need you.

Honeybee colonies are dying at frightening rates. Since 2007, an average of 30% of all colonies have died every winter in the United States. This loss is about twice as high as what U.S. beekeepers consider economically tolerable. In the winter of 2012-13, 29% of all colonies died in Canada and 20% died in Europe.

Wild bee species, particularly bumblebees, are also in peril…..

Fifty years ago, bees lived healthy lives in our cities and rural areas because they had plenty of flowers to feed on, fewer insecticides contaminating their floral food and fewer exotic diseases and pests. Wild bees nested successfully in undisturbed soil and twigs. Now, bees have trouble finding pollen and nectar sources because of the extensive use of herbicides that kill off so many flowering plants among crops and in ditches, roadsides and lawns.

Flowers can be contaminated with insecticides that can kill bees directly or lead to chronic, debilitating effects on their health.” 3

You can view the whole article by clicking here, but the most troubling bit states that just 100 species of plants provide 90% of the global food supply, and 71 of them rely on bee pollination for their existence. 4 After you get familiar with this subject you may never feel like swatting another bee again, and you’ll likely want to get involved in some way (check out our “Get Involved” section at the bottom for ways to help!).

What Does the End of Bees Mean?

If much of the world’s food supply links back to healthy bee populations, what does this mean for all of us?

Thanks to Whole Foods Market, we now have an excellent mental picture of what would happen if the bees were gone. The following is a photograph we call Before and After Bees., and shows what your market’s produce section looks like today, with the bee population waning (on top) versus without a bee population (on bottom):

Image: Market with current bee population's output versus no bee population's output

Very clearly shown here, the future with no bees is a terrifying prospect.
Source: Whole Foods Market

A Little Sunshine Before We End…

Have no fear! Scientists all over the world are taking steps to find solutions. And best of all,.. there are ordinary people, like you and I, doing some amazing things too! Organizations are sprouting up world-wide to advocate for bees and we’ll wrap this article up today with the National Honey Bee Day Waggle Dance, one of the best flash mob videos I’ve come across.

Take Action – Help Save the Bees!

If you’re concerned about the future of humanity’s food sources, the future of bees, or the future of the planet Earth, we found a few indispensable sources of information with ways to help out. First, check out Green Peace’s Bees in Crisis information page, which not only houses a ton of scientifically sound information, but the Ever Widening Circles staff really likes the positive outlook they used to present the information. Instead of “we’re all doomed unless…” tactics, Green Peace chose to celebrate the possibilities of helping to save the bees (although we do urge you to keep this in mind: one of every three bites of food you take you owe to the work of a bee!).

If you’re looking to actually get involved after learning more, check out Change.org‘s Save our bees and the food we eat takes a shot at Bayer Chemicals, makers of many products (most recognizably Bayer Aspirin), but also sheds light on how big companies may be damaging the ability for bees to reproduce, survive, and thrive. Click here to go to change.org and join 191,000 people already taking action.

Thanks for stopping by EWC today. I’m going to waggle-dance my way over to make some toast with real, raw honey, and I’ll appreciate it so much more now!

Stay open, curious and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

Notes:

  1. “Bee Dance (Waggle Dance).” YouTube. Bienentanz GmbH, 2 June 2006. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7ijI-g4jHg>.
  2. “The Waggle Dance of the Honeybee.” YouTube. Georgia Tech College of Computing, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFDGPgXtK-U>.
  3. Spivak, Marla, “What will happen if all the bees disappear?” cnn.com, May 17, 2014.
  4. Spivak, Marla, “What will happen if all the bees disappear?” cnn.com, May 17, 2014.
  5. “Flash Mob: National Honey Bee Day Waggle Dance.” YouTube. Honey Love, 2 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhcAgs-9q8Q>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world.