Waggle information

A nice post on bee dancing and the bee sensory system at Neurophilosophy. From an information perspective, here we have a good example of adapting a nervous and sensory system to maximize information transfer through a given channel. In this case, the channel is defined by the frequency of bee wingbeats, particularly during the waggle dance. The critical sensory apparatus of the antennae turns out to be a simple machine for picking up these signals.

It was found that the antennae of mature worker bees are most sensitive to sounds with a frequency of between 250-300 Hz, and that the frequency and timing of the flagellar vibrations are accurately translated into the neural responses of the sensory cells in the Johnson's organ. The worker bees' hearing is therefore perfectly tuned to detect the movements of other bees, and the auditory system is ideal for listening in on the sounds made by other workers performing a dance no more than several millimetres away.

The extra twist is that worker bees differentiate their activities by age, and only older bees can hear the waggle dance at maximal efficiency. Younger bees who don't forage for food also don't have the sensitivity in the right range of frequencies.

It's a simple model with ontogenetic change in information receptivity.

References

Tsujiuchi, S., et al (2007). Dynamic range compression in the honey bee auditory system toward waggle dance sounds. PLoS One 2: e234. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000234.