When social insects build up food stores, they also have to defend them. In most cases, identifying a foreign individual is simple, such as a bear attacking a beehive. But for many social insects, robbing can also occur from conspecifics: individuals of the same species, but from another colony. This video focuses on guarding and robbing behavior in the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Honeybee robbing behavior can be very destructive, where one hive clears the entire food stores of another hive, often fighting to the death. The mechanics by which bees from one hive assess and bypass guards is poorly known.
In this dance, we see the first bee emerging from a trunk (her hive), and adopting a guarding stance. Her front legs are elevated, and she uses her antennae to examine bees as they enter.
The second bee is the robber bee, in the same outfit as the first, but with a top hat that blocks her antennae, and a mask. She first approaches the hive to rob directly, but then falls back. The swaying dance, shown by movement back and forth, is characteristic of robber bees, which may be used to determine when to approach the hive safely. She then opens the hive, and eats some honey. Upon returning to her colony, she performs a waggle dance, to advertise the available resource to her sisters, and rob the entire food stores of the other hive (represented by eating more from the trunk, and kicking it over).
The robber bee then returns to her own colony, and adopts a guard stance, to prevent robbing from occurring at her own home.
*The dancer is actually male, but guard and robber honeybees are female, so I’ve adopted the female gender for my description.
*The hives seen in the video are actual beehives. I would recommend that future dancers keep a safe distance from beehives, as they will sting you, especially if you’re wearing black… and dancing.
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