Forager honey bees communicate the distance of food sources to nest mates through waggle dances, but how do bees measure these distances? Recent work suggests that bees measure distance flown in terms of the extent of image motion (integrated optic flow) that is experienced during flight. However, it is known that optic flow also regulates the speed of flight. Therefore, the duration of the flight to a destination is likely to co-vary with the optic flow that is experienced en route. This makes it difficult to tease apart the potential roles of flight duration and optic flow as cues in estimating distance flown. Here we examine whether flight duration alone can serve as an indicator of distance. We trained bees to visit feeders at two sites located in optically different environments, but positioned such that the flight durations to the two sites were similar. The distance estimates for the two sites, as reported in the waggle dance, were compared. We found that dances differed significantly between the two sites, even though flight times were similar. Flight time per se was a poor predictor of waggle dance behaviour. We conclude that foraging bees do not simply signal flight time as their measure of distance in the waggle dance; the environment through which they fly plays a dominant role.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)402-407
Number of pages6
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2005


  • Apis mellifera
  • Dance language
  • Optic flow
  • Waggle dance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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