Bumble Boogie

January 17, 2011

Eva Gusnowski

Eva Gusnowski honey bee waggle dance sleep deprivation


The alarm goes off, you hit snooze. After a couple of rounds you finally drag yourself out of bed and get ready for the day to come. And if you’re like me, and stayed up watching that Mythbusters marathon the night before, you’re probably pretty darn tired. I can tell you from personal experience that I have a hard time getting my point across to other people during days like this, and usually babble on for a number of incoherent sentences. Except now when people try to make fun of me for speaking gibberish, I can just say, “Don’t worry, its science.” 

The effect of sleep deprivation on the communication between eusocial animals, those that have a strong community structure, has recently been studied in European honey bees. After returning from a successful foraging mission, honey bees perform a waggle dance to inform the other members of the colony about the direction and distance to the foraging location. Distance to this site is indicated by the length of the waggle dance while the angle of the dance relative to vertical indicates the direction of the site relative to the sun’s azimuth (the angle between the vertical plane of the sun and the plane of the meridian).

Bees with steel tags were deprived of sleep during the night using magnets to jostle them around. The researchers found that sleep deprived bees performed more poorly during the waggle dance when demonstrating the direction to the foraging site, but not the distance to this site. Dance precision was specifically affected after a left turn was performed. Clearly the ability of the bees to communicate to each other was adversely affected by sleep deprivation. And because we’re talking about communication, the imprecise waggle dance can be equivalent to the nonsense ramblings of sleep-deprived humans.

And I thought I had bad mornings. Okay, just one more episode and then I promise to go to sleep.



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