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Waggle dance is a term used in beekeeping and ethology for a particular figure-eight dance of the honeybee. By performing this dance, successful foragers can share with their hive mates information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar or pollen, or both, and to water sources. Thus the waggle dance is a mechanism whereby successful foragers can recruit other bees in their colony to good locations for collecting various resources. It used to be thought that bees have two distinct recruitment dances—round dances and waggle dances—the former for indicating nearby targets and the latter for indicating distant target, but it is now known that a round dance is simply a waggle dance with a very short waggle run (see below). Austrian ethologist Karl von Frisch was one of the first who translated the meaning of the waggle dance.


A waggle dance consists of one to 100 or more circuits, each of which consists of two phases: the waggle phase and the return phase. To examine how bees communicate using waggle dances, let us follow the behavior of a bee upon her return from a rich, new food source. Excited by her discovery, she scrambles into her hive's entrance and immediately crawls onto one of the vertical combs. Here, amidst a massed throng of her sisters, she performs her dance. This involves running through a small figure-eight pattern: a waggle run (aka waggle phase) followed by a turn to the right to circle back to the starting point (aka return phase), another waggle run, followed by a turn and circle to the left, and so on in a regular alternation between right and left turns after waggle runs. The waggle phase of the dance is the most striking and informative part of the signaling bee's performance.

The direction and duration of waggle runs are closely correlated with the direction and distance of the patch of flowers being advertised by the dancing bee. Flowers located directly in line with the sun are represented by waggle runs in an upward direction on the vertical combs, and any angle to the right or left of the sun is coded by a corresponding angle to the right or left of the upward direction. The distance between hive and recruitment target is encoded in the duration of the waggle runs. The farther the target, the longer the waggle phase, with a rate of increase of about 75 milliseconds per 100 meters.

Amazingly, waggle dancing bees that have been in the hive for an extended time adjust the angles of their dances to accommodate the changing direction of the sun. Therefore bees that follow the waggle run of the dance are still correctly led to the food source even though its angle relative to the sun has changed.

Applications to operations research[]

In line with recent work in swarm intelligence research involving optimization algorithms inspired by the behavior of social insects and animals such as fish, birds, and ants, recently there has been research on using bee waggle dance behavior for efficient fault-tolerant routing.[1] From the abstract of Wedde, Farooq, and Zhang (2004)[2]:

In this paper we present a novel routing algorithm, BeeHive, which has been inspired by the communicative and evaluative methods and procedures of honey bees. In this algorithm, bee agents travel through network regions called foraging zones. On their way their information on the network state is delivered for updating the local routing tables. BeeHive is fault tolerant, scalable, and relies completely on local, or regional, information, respectively. We demonstrate through extensive simulations that BeeHive achieves a similar or better performance compared to state-of-the-art algorithms.

Another bee-inspired stigmergic computational technique called bee colony optimization is employed in Internet Server Optimization.[3][4]


  1. Crina, Grosan; Abraham Ajith. (2006) Stigmergic Optimization: Inspiration, Technologies and Perspectives. Studies in Computational Intelligence. Vol. 31. pp. 1-24. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg. ISBN 978-3-540-34689-0
  2. Wedde HF, Farooq M, Zhang Y (2004). "BeeHive: An Efficient Fault-Tolerant Routing Algorithm Inspired by Honey Bee Behavior". Lecture Notes in Computer Science 3172: 83-94. 
  3. Nakrani, S. and C. Tovey, (2004) "On Honey Bees and Dynamic Server Allocation in Internet Hosting Centers". Adaptive Behaviour. Vol. 12, Issues 3-4. pp.223-240.
  4. C. Tovey, (2004) "The Honey Bee Algorithm: A Biological Inspired Approach to Internet Server Optimization". Engineering Enterprise. Spring 2004, pp.13-15.

Further reading[]

  • Gould JL (1975). "Honey bee recruitment: the dance-language controversy". Science 189:685−693.
  • Riley JR, Greggers U, Smith AD, Reynolds DR, Menzel R (2005). "The flight paths of honeybees recruited by the waggle dance". Nature 435:205-207.
  • Seeley TD (1995). "The Wisdom of the Hive". Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • von Frisch K (1967). "The Dance Language and Orientation of Bees". Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

See also[]

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