Insect Image Gallery
Insect Image Gallery

The honeybee waggle transforms the chaos of the hive into a well-oiled, nectar-finding machine. See more insect pictures.

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In 1973, Karl von Frisch won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of one of the most primitive dances in history. It wasn't the waltz, the samba or the tango, nor any human contrived set of steps. Instead, the scientist introduced the world to the fascinating rhythm of the waggle.

The waggle is a dance performed by honeybees that stimulates honey production and sustains the viability of the hives. It's an intricate, yet simple to follow, pattern of movement that scouting honeybees practice in order to direct forager bees to sources of nectar around 330 feet (100 meters) or more away from the hive [source: Winston]. The forager bees can then find the nectar and bring it back to the hive to make honey.

Although von Frisch's general description of the waggle as a step between scouting out nectar sources and making honey was accepted by many scientists, the precision of the information involved in the dance wasn't confirmed until recently. In 2005, an experiment tracked foraging honeybee's flight patterns and confirmed that the unique "language" of the waggle does in fact include directional data that the bees interpret and follow [source: Riley et al]. Those instructions communicated by the waggle, in addition to the scent of the nectar, have a 90 to 98 percent accuracy rate for the foraging bees [source: Winston].

When you watch a swarm of honeybees in the hive, they buzz around in such a frenzied manner that you could easily the miss the simple figure-eight movement of the waggling honeybee scout. But before the scouting bee can start to waggle, it must first leave the hive to locate prime nectar sources from flowering plants, then rush back to the hive to recruit help from foraging bees. To draft the other bees, it must give them instructions of where to go.

Those instructions work efficiently enough that researchers have attempted to apply its principles to the human world. One prime example that has attracted attention is intended to make Web servers more efficient -- like a happy hive of honeybees.