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.

            What 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 bee’s and bee castes, it would be possible to extract, observe and measure what and which chemical levels and measurements control.

            The 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.

            We 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 eggs.2 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

            Though 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 signal.”4 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

            The 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.             

            The 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.  

            The 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

            The 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.

            Language, 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?

            Accuracy 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 cites, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Works Cited

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. Print.

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. 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.

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.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 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. Print.

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. Print.

9 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, and G. E. M. Anscombe. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1997. Print.

10 (Seeley, 60)