Intra-dance variation among waggle runs and the design of efficient protocols for honey bee dance decoding
Noise is universal in information transfer. In animal communication, this presents a challenge not only for intended signal receivers, but also to biologists studying the system. In honey bees, a forager communicates to nestmates the location of an important resource via the waggle dance. This vibrational signal is composed of repeating units (waggle runs) that are then averaged by nestmates to derive a single vector. Manual dance decoding is a powerful tool for studying bee foraging ecology, although the process is time-consuming: a forager may repeat the waggle run 1- .100 times within a dance. It is impractical to decode all of these to obtain the vector; however, intra-dance waggle runs vary, so it is important to decode enough to obtain a good average. Here we examine the variation among waggle runs made by foraging bees to devise a method of dance decoding. The first and last waggle runs within a dance are significantly more variable than the middle run. There was no trend in variation for the middle waggle runs. We recommend that any four consecutive waggle runs, not including the first and last runs, may be decoded, and we show that this methodology is suitable by demonstrating the goodness-of-fit between the decoded vectors from our subsamples with the vectors from the entire dances.