How do bees hear?

by
07/10/2019
It’s National Don’t Step on a Bee Day and we want to share the message of the importance in protecting our precious bees.

Recent press surrounding the ‘Bee Crisis’ has been hard to ignore. Not only do our bees help provide the honey, propolis and beeswax contained within your favourite Bee Good products, they also help to keep us all fed and watered! Without the tireless work of our little buzzing friends, over a third of everything we eat would disappear from our tables.

To raise awareness we want to look into and share interesting facts about their hearing, so we ask the question, do bees have ears?

Long story short no, bees do not have ears. However, they have the ability to pick up sounds, so in a way, they can ‘hear’ but not through the use of ears.

How do we know that bees can detect sound?

Several research experiments have confirmed that bees can sense sound. In 1989, researchers Towne and Kirchner were able to train bees to leave a feeder in response to a sound signal. In 1991, Kirchner trained bees to turn left or right as they entered a feeder, depending on a sound signal.

So if bees don’t have ears, how do bees detect sound?

So far as scientists can make out, bees may use:

- The antennae – a very particular part of each antenna. In honey bees, there are a collection of
   
sensory cells that are sensitive to vibration (sound waves are basically vibrations), and they are
   found in the second segment of each antenna.
- The legs – In honey bees, sound vibrations are picked up by organs in the legs.

Till today we are not 100% clear how bees pick up sound.

 

How do bees use sound information?

When honey bees perform their famous figure of 8 waggle dance, a dancing bee waggles her abdomen and vibrates her wings.  By performing this dance, successful foragers can share information about the direction and distance to patches of flowers yielding nectar and pollen, to water sources, or to new nest-site locations with other members of the colony. 

The vibrations and sounds she creates are then detected by other members of the colony, such that she is able to transmit important information to the other bees.

Sound is important in honey bee communication. Honey bees use a range of piping and buzzing sounds in the nest that are picked up by other bees and are used to communicate and affect the behaviour of the colony. 

For example, a small group of experienced forager bees called 'nest-site scouts' produce a "piping-signal" that primes the workers for swarming. 

We hope that you have found this blog interesting and that you will now think before stepping on a bee! Want to see more? Why not check out our other blogs on animals and their hearing.

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Sources:
- Dreller, C. and W.H. Kirchner 1993a. Hearing in honeybees: localization of the auditory sense organ. J. Comp. Physiol. A 173: 275-279.
- Dreller, C. and W.H. Kirchner 1993b. How bees perceive the information in the dance language. Naturwissenschaften 80: 319-321.
- Kirchner, W.H. 1993. Acoustical communication in honeybees. Apidologie 24: 297-307.
- Kirchner, W.H. 1994. Hearing in honeybees: The mechanical response of the bee’s antenna to near field sound. J. Comp. Physiol. A 175: 261-265.
- Kirchner, W.H., C. Dreller and W.F. Towne 1991. Hearing in honeybees: Operant conditioning and spontaneous reactions to airborne sound. J. Comp. Physiol. A 168: 85-89.
- Towne, W.F. and W.H. Kirchner 1989. Hearing in honey bees: detection of air-particle oscillations. Science 244: 686-688.

 

 

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