Honeycomb geometry helps dancing bees gather an audience.
Moving and shaking: honeycomb is a natural amplifier.
© M. Kleinhenz
If you want to catch someones attention on the dance floor, it helps if youre dancing on a honeycomb. Vibrations from a dancing honeybee are naturally amplified by the hexagonal comb, a new study finds1.
Phased not confused
When the researchers looked at how vibrations spread around the comb, they found that in most places, opposite walls of each hexagonal cell vibrated in the same direction at the same time. But at a distance of two or three cells from the source of the vibrations, the walls vibrated in opposite directions, in what is called a phase reversal.
"We were able to pick up the phase reversal with just two vibration detectors, so it seems likely that the bees can pick it up with their six," Tautz says. They found that most of the bees recruited by the dancer came from precisely this phase-shift zone.
"This is a very intriguing finding, because it suggests a source of information that hadnt been considered before," says Fred Dyer, who studies the waggle dance at Michigan State University in East Lansing. But it is possible that other signals alert bees, like airborne vibrations from the dancers wings or smells and sounds coming from the dancer, he cautions.
The bees may rely on all these cues together, Seeley says. "Redundancy is a good thing in communication, because it reduces errors."
Knowledge to build on
Its not clear why the hexagonal arrangement of honeycomb cells should create this phase reversal, says Tautz. But understanding the phenomenon might be valuable not just for bee experts but for architects. Tautz is working with architects at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena to design better steel skeletons for high-rise buildings.
"Vibrations in honeybee nests are like miniature earthquakes generated by the bees, so its very interesting to see how the structure responds to it," Tautz says. Understanding the phase reversal could help architects predict which parts of a building will be especially vulnerable to earthquakes, he says. They could then strengthen these areas, he suggests, or even introduce weak spots into non-critical areas of buildings to absorb harmful vibrations.
ERICA KLARREICH | © Nature News Service
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