Foible of the Bees

25obsexlarge1Herbert Simon once said, “ an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”  Apparently, this also holds true for bees, in the NYT.

Much has been made about the waggle dance, a fox trot of sorts that foraging honeybees do to tell their hive mates when they have found a good food source. The dance — a zigzagging figure eight maneuver performed in the hive — provides cues as to the direction and distance of the trove of flowers so the other bees can locate it.

There is only one problem: Many bees seem to ignore the information. Instead, researchers in Argentina have found, the bees rely on their own memories of where to find food.

In addition to its waggle moves, which provide location information, a dancing bee carries the odor of the flowers it visited. And flower scents have a known effect on bees: if the insects haven’t been foraging for a few days, the scent spurs them to resume, often at a food source they have visited before.

So the question for Walter M. Farina of the University of Buenos Aires, with colleagues Christoph Grüter and M. Sol Balbuena, was what happens when the dance creates a conflict: The dancer provides information about a new location, but the flower odor reminds the watching bees about food that they remember is at another location. What do the watching bees do?