dancing bee

Let’s Dance! The Honey Bee Dance

Did you know that honey bees dance?  You won’t see them shaking their thang on the dance floor, but inside the hive, honey bees dance to share the location of a food source with other worker bees to help them identify the flower.  The dance moves, duration and number of vibrations tell the colony the exact distance to the flowers, using complex mathematics that even take into consideration the movement of the sun one degree every four minutes.

Bees also account for strong winds, dancing as if the food is further away to indicate that more energy will be expended to reach the flowers.  With their sesame seed sized brains, honey bees use vector calculus to determine the most efficient route (faster than a computer) and tell the worker bees how much honey to store for the journey.

The worker bees who collect nectar and pollen are female, and thus they are the dancers, too.  When a worker finds a suitable food source, she will return to the hive with nectar to share with the other workers.

If the food source is more than 80 meters, the worker bee will perform a “waggle” dance to communicate the direction of the flowers.  She runs directly ahead for a short distance, then returns to the starting point in a semi-circle, runs directly ahead again, then make a semi-circle in the opposite direction, thus completing a figure eight series of movements.  The waggle comes from the wagging of the abdomen from side to side, creating a vibration that appears as a tail wagging.  She moves vertically to show direction toward the sun or away from the sun and to the sides in alignment to where the sun is at the moment of the dance.  She emits a buzzing sound by the beating of her wings at a slow audio frequency, which guide in relaying the distance of the flower.  The better the food source, the more excitement and faster the dance moves. The further away the food source, the more waggles in the middle of the dance.  The bee increases the waggle part of the dance by 1 second for every km of distance.

bee waggle run

When the food source is closer, within 30 meters or so, the worker bee will perform the “circle” or “round” dance.  The round dance only tells the colony that there is a source of flowers close to the hive, not the location.  The bee walks in a circle, turns around, then walks the same circle in the opposite direction, repeating this over and over; the closer the source of food, the more cycles performed.  She may include a little waggle or generate a buzz if the flowers are exceptional quality for the hive. 

The bees do not always dance.  They assess the needs of the colony and the quality of the nectar before making the decision to put out the moves.  Many workers will dancing is a good sign of a nectar source.

A honey bee scout will waggle to tell a swarming colony about the location of a potential new home, using the same directional signs in relationship to the sun.

The dances are not consistent from one bee to another, either.  Researchers have noted that each bee has her own calibration and that the wagging dance is not always spot on, but close enough to find the food source.

What happens when honey bee really wants to get down on the dance floor and party like its 1989?  When researchers gave bees cocaine to study addiction behavior, they found that bees react much like humans do: cocaine alters their judgment, stimulates their behavior and makes them exaggeratedly enthusiastic about things that might not otherwise excite them.  The bees on cocaine “danced more frequently and more vigorously for the same quality of food,” according to Andrew B. Barron, a senior lecturer at Macquarie University in Australia and a co-leader in the bees-on-cocaine studies.  “They were about twice as likely to dance” as undrugged bees, and they circled “about 25 percent faster.”

The bees did not dance at the wrong time or place; just enthusiastic and more excited about the food they found.  That’s like “when a human takes cocaine at a low dose,” Dr. Barron said. “They find many stimuli, but particularly, rewarding stimuli, to be more rewarding than they actually are.”

Occasionally, bees are drawn to fermented substances from decaying fruits and, like humans, get so drunk that they lay on their backs with their feet kicking the air like an angry child having a temper tantrum or the best man trying to break dance at your college roommate’s wedding.  It is the drunk bee dance performed by mostly drones who have no other purpose in life than to have sex with the Queen, at which point they will die (but with a happy ending).

There is a strict conduct code in the colony.  Alcoholism would destroy the cohesion bee colonies, so the Queen assigns guards to keep the drunken drones from the hive.




Save the Bees, Save the Planet, Save Ourselves

dave bees
I started a blog to document my path to bees and beekeeping. I did not upload my first three posts, but the first was waiting for the bees to arrive, decked out in my borrowed bee suit on the side of the road, wondering what wild, impulsive decision got me to this place and time. Sort of how I feel moments before I enter an ayahuasca ceremony. I saw an advertisement for bee colonies on Facebook, and after speaking with my beekeeper neighbor for all of two minutes, I decided that I, too, would buy some hives and put them at Harmonia.. Why not? They were a good price and beekeeping is part of the course offerings, so I asked, Dave, my neighbor, if I could piggyback on his order. It was only then that I started to educate myself about the very basics of my latest impetuous hobby.

It was not until the next morning that it hit me. I have 30,000 plus bees in my care. There is no going back. I cannot tell Dave to take my hives and repay me in honey. I mean, I could, but that would be like taking skydiving lessons and then chickening out at the jump. I want bees, so I am going to have to suit up, risk a few stings, and embrace it. And I have and I love it.

In a short amount of time, I introduced myself to the basics of beekeeping, but only today did I understood the dirty truth: most commercial beekeepers take all of the honey from the bees and feed them sugar syrup during the winter/rainy season. I was so busy looking at the basics that I had yet to get into conscientious beekeeping. I know why the flow hive is not a great solution (though it works for cities), but I was astounded that the majority of beekeepers, including all large commercial operations, take ALL of the honey and leave sugar water for the honeybees to live on for 6 months of the year. An average colony of bees produces 25 pounds of honey during their foraging season. They need 8 to 12 pounds to get them through the winter, possibly a little extra in the summer months, too. Presently, one pound of honey sells for $7.75 in the US, although the wholesale price is $2.27 per pound due to cheap imports. Wholesale sugar prices are about $.22 per pound and $.38 per pound retail. Sustainable beekeeping is not economically viable in a commodities based economic system.

Another dirty secret is organic honey. In the US, organic sugar costs between $1-$2 per pound, the latter amount being the Fair Trade price. Organic sugar from Guatemala is 4 times the price of non-organic sugar, but we cannot buy organic sugar in Nicaragua. The Pellas family, who control the sugar farming in the country for their rum, uses glyphosate on the sugar cane, lobbied the government to prevent the import of organic sugar from Guatemala. No way to fight a billionaire. The sugar-water ratio to feed bees is 2 to 1. Feeding bees organic sugar in the US, Europe or Canada would cost as much per pound as the wholesale price of raw honey. Even if farmers have organic crops, if they feed their honeybees white sugar syrup, there will be trace amounts of glyphosate in the honey. This is why the USDA has no standards for organic honey. If you see USDA Organic on a jar of honey, the certification agency (not the USDA) has based their certification on the USDA rules for Organic Livestock. EU organic standards demand the surrounding area is certified organic and the inside of the hives must not contain any synthetic chemicals that are prohibited by the EU.

Everything will test positive for glyphosate because of the sugar. There is no such thing as real organic honey on the market.

azucar dulce
azucar dulce

Last week, I fed my bees a mixture of water and azucar dulce (hardened sugar that tastes like molasses) and a touch of local honey. I didn’t have the right ratio: they ate about half the bag. Dave used azucar dulce with the correct water to sugar ratio and his bees seemed to love it. I made up the proper mixture this morning, so hopefully my bees will enjoy it. As soon as I got home, I looked up something on a search engine and read that a.) bees should not eat honey from different hives due to risk of disease and cross-contamination, and b.). brown sugar and molasses sugar can cause dysentery in bees. I immediately ran to Dave’s house, but he was well aware of the information. The azucar dulce is a two-week test to see if they like it. It is a healthier sugar than white, though much harder to mix. We saw no evidence of dysentery in any hive.

Our three beehives! It's a start!
Our three beehives! It’s a start!

My three colonies looked healthy. I saw a few with orange pollen, so the perhaps they got their food from the nancite blossoms and the flora amarilla, the tiny yellow flowers that cover our fields. They are just beginning to bloom.
Dave lost one of his new colonies. They swarmed and only a few remained. $70 down the drain. He lost another colony the week before, as the hive was too full and he did not split it in time. He took two frames from a large colony and put them in an empty hive. Hopefully there is an emerging queen to lead. Another colony was destroyed by wax moths. We saw them in the hive last week. There were also Congo bees in that hive, so the poor honeybees didn’t stand a chance against the predators. Commercial beekeeping is a lot of work. I could not appreciate it until I suited up and inspected the hives. I am already looking forward to next week when we feed them again. We have lots of rain and not many blooming trees right now, so they need food. They were traumatized by the move (normal), so I do not want to bother them and risk them swarming off to a new location.

flora amarilla
flora amarilla

It was the walk home that changed my focus from bees to Harmonia. I mentioned an article that I had posted the night before regarding the collapse of 2,000 species of fireflies. I have spent enough time on my land and in Cardenas to witness the decrease in populations. I also noticed a massive decrease in butterflies this year. The normal migration along the lake in June/July did not happen. Usually when I come across the Malinche trees they are pulsating with yellow butterflies, but not this year. Normally the upper area of Harmonia is filled with thousands of butterflies in the fields, but his year I would estimate an 80% decline from last year. It was noticeably less. I do not see many bees, be it honeybees, carpenter bees, green bees, blue bees or the little black Congos. Last year my house was surrounded by flowers, but more spiders and butterflies/moths than bees. Fewer June bugs, fewer grasshoppers, fewer everything.

We walked up to a big flowering tree along the road and saw lots of pollinators, just not many bees. I made the decision right there that I want to have many beehives and let them use their own honey for food. I will take some because they produce more than they need, but I don’t want to have to feed them sugar. I will be able to harvest enough honey to use at Harmonia, but nothing to sell commercially. Last week I had looked into creating a crowd funding campaign to buy hives and use the honey sales to help fund operations at Harmonia. I am glad that I did not post my blog entry (I was waiting for numbers). Today I am more inspired to create a pollinator protection program (Dave’s idea) and work more on creating a dynamic permaculture finance and economics program to radically transform our economies into something sustainable that does not harm the planet.

This afternoon I read that Morgan Freedman has decided to use his 124 acres to protect the bees. It is one of those signs that I am on the right path.


I feel that more than ever, Harmonia needs to manifest in all of its glory. We have to teach people how to be stewards of this beautiful planet. Whether it is protecting bees, cleaning water or building agrihoods, it is crucial that our global society return to our roots and respect that which keeps us alive. We must start living in the manner of the Native Americans, who focused on the seven generations that would follow. How does our lifestyle impact our grandchildren, great grandchildren and their grandchildren and great grandchildren? What right do we have to destroy the planet for a like on Instagram or a trip to the mall or a fancy car? We are selling out the planet for instant gratification. We complain and protest about irrelevant topics to avoid dealing with the fact that our planet cannot sustain our greed and disrespect.

I do not pretend to have all of the answers, but I am committed to helping people reconnect with nature and creating an atmosphere that allows us to share our ideas and inspirations so that we have a viable future instead of the dystopian construct that looms overhead. I need help. Lots of help, money and resources. And I need the right people. I have resisted this part, not knowing exactly who can and will be part of Harmonia, as a co-founder, co-creator, benevolent angel, work exchange or student. I have put all of my faith in the Universe. I trust, I do, but this is a call to help. If you can help, great. Maybe you know someone who can help, that is great, too.

Thank you. Namaste.