We discovered more about the bee's wake-up call – and this could help save them


Bee populations around the world are in danger – and it is a terrible situation for humans. Threats to climate change, toxic pesticides and diseases have contributed to a steep decline in the bee population since 2006. And as a third of the food we eat is a direct result of insect pollination – including bees – there can be serious consequences for us if species is extinct.

We recently discovered more about a known and important bee sign known as dorsal ventral-ventral vibration (DVAV) signal. Known as the "wake-up call" of the bee, this signal tells other bees to prepare for an increase in workload, particularly in relation to foraging. We developed a remote sensor that allowed us to monitor colonies of bees without opening the hive. By understanding the frequency and strength of the DVAV signal in the hive, beekeepers and researchers may be better able to monitor the health of bee colonies around the world.

In many countries (and Europe in particular), the forest habitat that bees need is no longer available, so most bees survive only thanks to beekeepers who provide boxes and hives for them to live on. monitoring colonies of bees is essential for their survival.

Problems can arise quickly in a colony with devastating effects. While commercial beekeepers are doing their best to monitor bee populations in hives, checking the population of each hive is an almost impossible task, since some professionals have more than a thousand colonies to care for.

Recent research has focused on finding ways to monitor bee populations without having to physically open hives. This will help beekeepers to better verify the safety of their colonies and can help sustain bee populations.

We are particularly interested in researching the vibrations resulting from the activity of the bees in the hives to better understand their behavior in vivo. By detecting and measuring the vibrations sent by the honeycomb by individual bees, we are able to study and decode the messages that the bees are sending to each other.

Bee Communication

The DVAV signal is a well-known form of communication between bees, which tells other bees in the hive that they prepare to increase the workload. This signal lasts a second and occurs when a bee holds a receiving bee with its front legs and rhythmically swings the abdomen back and forth, usually 20 times per second.

A bee delivering a series of DVAV signals.

Using an accelerometer sensor (which measures the acceleration rate that the bee's body vibrates) with the automated recording software, we were able to continuously monitor activity in the bee hive. Our research has found that we can pick up the DVAV signal in the hive when the bees pass near our sensor. Knowing this allows us to refine our assessment of colony health, as specific health disorders will be reflected in changes in the general activity levels of the hive DVAV.

It was not known that this "wake-up call" produced any vibration within the honeycomb, but we now record the waveform associated with extraordinary details. Further video analysis allowed us to confirm that it was the DVAV signal our sensor was detecting. From that, we were able to create more machine learning software to automatically detect and record any occurrence of DVAVs from the data our sensor detected.

A DVAV signal is detected.

We monitored this signal in three beehives in the UK and France for up to 16 months. We have found that the signal is very common and highly repeatable. It occurs unexpectedly more often at night, with a distinct decrease in the middle of the afternoon – a tendency opposite to the amplitude (intensity or intensity) of the signals. We also found that bees normally produce this signal directly on the comb.

This, along with other research, suggests that the DVAV signal may not only function as a wake-up call. For example, this signal may be a way for bees to probe the content of the honeycomb in order to check the storage levels of honey and pollen or the presence of eggs. The amplitude of the signal, which varies greatly between night and day, may indicate the context in which the message is being produced. Its increased nocturnal frequency is both a new discovery and, currently, an amazing mystery.

This new view of the DVAV signal will help scientists to recreate it so we can try to communicate with the bees. When conducting a precise replica of DVAV signal waves in the honeycomb (something that is not possible before our study), researchers will be able to convey meaningful messages to the colony. This will allow them to verify that enhanced colony activity is achieved and also enable them to better understand the specific functions of the DVAV signal.

Our new research is based on the work of Karl von Frisch, who decoded the meaning of the "beating dance" of the bee. Von Frisch discovered that bees use this to alert each other about nectar in the area, and provides highly accurate instructions on where to find them. The waggle dance is still discussed today as an example of amazing sophistication in insect communication. The discovery also triggered a shift in our thinking about other life forms and how they affect our lives.

With the current evidence we have about the damaging effect of humanity on Earth, it is likely that the impact of society on the planet will only worsen. Despite our desire to protect endangered species, we often make decisions for the benefit of humankind that are harmful to the environment. In highlighting another fascinating element of bee communication, we hope that our work will help change the thinking of humankind and make planet sustainability a top priority.


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