The Northern Irish Assembly in 2009 presented
papers claiming the global bee population had been decreased by fifty percent,
and the staggering loss of hive integrity reported in America in 2012 has cost
farmers an estimated 20% more to purchase out pollination services. 1
The culprit has been dubbed colony
collapse disorder, it is assumed to be one or more viruses, which result in
workers abandoning hives to the point of collapse. This has led to a new focus, and new ways
of examining one potential cause of the collapsing colonies, advancements in
pheromone secretion and worker replication of queen secretions, paint a picture
of a complex chemical network within the hive, one which requires balance.
does this have to do with language? And how does it relate to the observed
communicative faculties of the honey bee, the famous directional ‘waggle
dance’? Both are linguistic faculties, the waggle dance a more conventional,
though complex, system not only of measurement, but a self contained process,
informed and taught through hive culture as well as physiology; the dance
contains not only accurate directions, but details of time, season, even
assessing the effort needed for the journey.
This essay posits bee language has two facets,
the waggle dance which serves as both a reflection of the culture of the hive
as well as a “dance sentence". The dance-sentence contains information the
forager feeds into the hives central processing ‘hub’, to evaluate the worth of
the information, during which point the energy needed to get and harvest the
nectar is compared against its inevitable nectar yield. The procedurals of the
dance are complex, and show signs of adaptation and self-governance. The other
is the ubiquitous chemical language of secretions and glandular mimicry, if all
procedures of the hive can be broken down to secretory chemical interactions
between bees and bee castes, it would be possible to extract, observe and
measure what and which chemical levels and measurements control.
second language is chemical, thus it is a more ephemeral collective language,
this is the language of the hive itself, identical chemical secretions of
queens and workers maintain the same chemical structures, but not the same
measurements. The workers, for instance, can tell the secretions of the queen's dufours gland and the workers, despite
the only difference being the quantity of
the chemical make up. Moreover, all bees react to the pheromone released, or
in this essay's language spoken by the
queen. Perhaps most importantly, some egg laying workers can modify levels of their
secretions to replicate those of a queen, with varying degrees of success
depending on their accuracy. If the secretion's formulation is properly
modified, the newly royalized worker-queen attracts a court, just like a queen
of a smaller scale, her chemical literacy
has allowed her to re-program the hive making herself, though not
physiologically, a queen.
do not know much about the interactions between pheromone secretions and hive
behavior, we know certain compounds do certain things, but lack a complete
understanding of which chemicals, and specifically which collection of
pheromones, illicit which behaviors. And
even when we can pinpoint groups of functionality, i.e. the dufours queen secretions focused on in
this essay, there is still much controversy and disagreement about the method
of instilment of actions and exact functions. How do the levels differ, and how
is that difference understood by the bee? What choice does the bee have, is it
a slave to its senses? How do some bees learn to ‘speak’ the language?
Dufours gland, and its secretions are
known to be involved in queen selection, caste functions and worker policing of
But other details of the pheromone's function remain vague.
“…Dufour’s gland caste-specific composition
suggests that in queens it may constitute a role in queen-worker interactions.
Attraction bioassays revealed that the queen secretion, but not that of
workers, is very attractive to workers. When applied either on a glass slide or
to another worker, a retinue formed around the “surrogate queen”. We conclude
that Dufour’s gland secretion constitutes part of a complex queen signal that
is the basis for the social integrity of the honeybee colony.”3
certainly not proven as the cause of colony collapse disorder, wide-spread replication
of the pheromone(s) which denote queenly-ness to the hive can, and has been
documented to, result in multiple ‘houses’ of royalized workers and their
courts, this inter-hive conflict decimates the viable egg population, and will
wipe out the colony as the replication of the secretions become
widespread. This virus is not
biological, and unlike other organic plagues, which decimate populations, this
one targets and thus requires treatment of, the integrity of the hive. This
process of learning or mimicking the chemical language is important, as a
‘language’ must be able to be shared. Though bees lack a sense of
individuality, they must be able to ‘understand’ or mutually communicate the
chemical language in a meaningful way. The chemical sentences, or compounds
must be constant, and just as language must be, in the Wittgensteinian model,
an accurate, consistent representation of the word's referenced meaning. The
repetition of the chemical secretion must be identical to the queen's own
levels, to adequately communicate the message to the hive. Turning once again
to the research preformed by Tamar Katzav-Gozansky’s team, we are provided with
not only a succinct summary of the process of fertile worker literacy, but also the chemical lexicon
of, at least a segment, of the caste system process.
“These studies have shown that the glands of
Queen-Raised workers, after a certain delay, are also able to produce the
esters (katzav-Gozansky et al. 2000), indicating that, normally dufour’s gland
of queen raised workers is repressed, but also raising the possibility that
at least some of the queen raised workers within the hive are able to
alleviate ths inhibition and mimic the queen’s secretion…the caste specificity
of Dufour’s gland secretion also raises the possibility that it acts as a queen
Beyond this, chemical language is vague, literacy lies not in a choice, but
in a necessity or a spontaneous mimicry, or even through selective chemical
changes in the bee. These chemical changes impact the physiology of the bee,
allowing it to replicate queen pheromones. 5
role of the chemical language, as a shared, hive culture is touched upon in the
same study. “…It is conventional to
attribute a certain queen-worker interaction to specific pheromones, honeybee
communication is not characterized by such simplicity. One pheromone can
possess a wide variety of functions…while many activities can be affected by a
combination of several pheromones… One example is the inhibition of worker
ovarian development, which is affected by both queen and brood pheromone…”6 The interaction of queen and brood, coupled
with the shared, if selective literacy of certain operative chemical secretory
‘sentences’, and the ability to, through mimicry learn new ‘sentences’, mean that inside the hive is a self
contained chemical language.
bee hive itself becomes an entity, a linguistic means to itself, with no form
or true individuality the Hive relies on complex interlays of organisms in a
caste system to serve as the ephemeral body and nerves, foragers are the eyes
and ears as well as parts of a complex information relay system, the queen the
mouth, proclaiming the methods and procedures of the caste system by virtue of
her chemical literacy, literacy of the chemical web that provides the
individual bees as parts, with the unifying messages of hive procedure. Even
the way the bee views, and interacts with the world around it is inferred
through hive culture. If we map out the chemical interactions in bee hives, we
have effectively created a lexicon with which we could communicate, not to a
honey bee, but to the hive itself. If pheromone secretions are, in effect, the
language of the hive, the bee as an individual organism becomes, as Seely terms
them, “Sensory units of their Colonies” 7.
second component of Hive language is much better known, though only marginally
better understood, and can provide us with valuable information about language,
it’s applications and limits. The Waggle dance is the product of hive life,
physiology and natural selection. The language of the dance developed as a
result, and thus provides us with a glimpse, of the way the bee ‘sees’ the
world around it, and most importantly in comparing it with Wittgenstein, how it
interacts with its surroundings. The Dance is composed of two parts, angle
orientation, the bee flying up and down to dictate the angle of the target
towards the sun, and a middle component where the bee, through length and direction
of dance, dictates co-ordinates of
distance. More than distance, the second half of the dance takes into a
account the length of the journey, this includes wind resistance, and the
information it delivers is how much energy will have to be expended. 8
Bee is able to not only measure distance, but also time. Because it is nearly
blind, it detects U.V rays, which point directly to the sun, which the entire
hive centers around for navigation. Thus it always knows where in the sky the
sun is, and can therefore navigate using variables of time and angle-distance.
The hive itself plays a role here, gravity and thus the differentiation of ‘up’
and ‘down’ ensure all bees are born with a capacity to differentiate distance
towards and away from the center of their operational world, the sun.
to Wittgenstein, is use. All its rules are, like his favored linguistic game
analogy, correct as long as they represent accurate information regarding their
function. But the game is only as accurate as the world-view and needs it
develops around. “How does the observer
distinguish in the case between players’ mistakes and correct play? There are
characteristic signs of it in the players behavior…It would be possible to
recognize someone was doing so even without knowing his language.”9
Not only accuracy, but change. Is change supported in the dance?
certainly is, bees are basically blind, and so cannot visually tell when a
nectar source is running low, so they have developed an ingenious method of
re-evaluation in a non-visual world and linguistic model. “Bees intermingle the dances for different sites, and by having the
dance following bees follow just one dance before leaving the hive to search
for a new food source, the forager of a colony distribute themselves among the
forage sites reported in the hive in approximated proportion to their quality”10
Not only do they operate a massive databank of co-ordinate dispersion, the
returning bees update the hive to changes in nectar yield and wind resistance via a
new dance, they have no concept of change, but can update and re-evaluate the
energy expended versus nectar returned. They also destroy inaccurate dancers.
C., and Thomas D. Seeley. "The Use of Waggle Dance Information by Honey
Bees throughout Their Foraging Careers." Behavioral Ecology and
Sociobiology 59.1 (2005): 133-42. Print.
Tamar, Fernando Ibarra, Wittko Francke, Abraham Hefetz, and Victoria Soroker.
"Dufour's Gland Secretion of the Queen Honeybee ( Apis Mellifera ): An Egg
Discriminator Pheromone or a Queen Signal?" Behavioral Ecology and
Sociobiology 51.1 (2001): 76-86. Print.
Malka, Osnat, Shiri
Shnieor, Abraham Hefetz, and Tamar Katzav-Gozansky. "Reversible Royalty in
Worker Honeybees (Apis Mellifera) under the Queen Influence." Behavioral
Ecology and Sociobiology 61.3 (2006): 465-73. Print.
Seeley, Thomas D.
"Honey Bee Foragers as Sensory Units of Their Colonies." Behavioral
Ecology and Sociobiology 34.1 (1994): 51-62. Print.
"Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms." The
New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 May 2013.
and G. E. M. Anscombe. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford, UK:
Blackwell, 1997. Print.
1 Wines, Michael. "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees,
Heightening Worry on Farms." The New York Times. The New York
Times, 29 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 May 2013.
2 Katzav-Gozansky, Tamar, Fernando Ibarra, Wittko Francke,
Abraham Hefetz, and Victoria Soroker. "Dufour's Gland Secretion of the
Queen Honeybee ( Apis Mellifera ): An Egg Discriminator Pheromone or a Queen
Signal?" Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 51.1 (2001): 76-86.
3 Katzav-gozansky 76
4 (Katzav-Gozansky 78)
5 Malka, Osnat, Shiri Shnieor, Abraham Hefetz, and Tamar
Katzav-Gozansky. "Reversible Royalty in Worker Honeybees (Apis Mellifera)
under the Queen Influence." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
61.3 (2006): 465-73. Print
6 Katzav-Gozansky 78)
7Seeley, Thomas D. "Honey Bee
Foragers as Sensory Units of Their Colonies." Behavioral Ecology and
Sociobiology 34.1 (1994): 51-62. Print.
8 Biesmeijer, Jacobus C., and Thomas D. Seeley. "The Use
of Waggle Dance Information by Honey Bees throughout Their Foraging
Careers." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 59.1 (2005): 133-42.
9 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, and G. E. M. Anscombe. Philosophical
Investigations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1997. Print.
10 (Seeley, 60)