Telling The Bees

Taking The Keys To The Bees

Telling the bees” is a folkloric tradition which embraces the intimacy between a beekeeper and his bees. The beekeeper gently raps on the hive with his house-keys to get the bees’ attention and then tells them about hatches, matches and dispatches in his family.

Now, Serge Pantalon – philosopher and self-proclaimed “movement” – has turned this concept on its head with the first work of Twitterature which interprets what the bees want to communicate to the human race. After all, Pantalon points out, they’ve had the best part of 20 million years to consider the matter.

While researching his nano-novel “Verity”, Pantalon employed method acting techniques to “become the bee”. Curating his own performances, Serge was able to unleash his inner bee, repeatedly banging his head against the window-panes of Starbucks on sunlit afternoons, waggle-dancing around carriages on the Circle Line and nose-pollinating Hyde Park’s wildflower meadows, while limiting himself to a cast-list of no more than 140 characters.

Serge has run up large overdue fees at the lending library of life,” explained Avril Fule, Animatrice Générale of the Institut Pantalon, breathlessly reading from a pink Post-It note at the launch party, congregated in a cardboard eco-yurt on the pavement between Hatchards and Fortnum’s. “And what with all the rumpus over complaints from Starbucks customers, commuters and sunbathers, Serge and a small group of followers have flown the nest, a sort of sergian swarm. Pluckily, Serge has consented to join us today by video-link from his top-secret island retreat.“

“Now, before I orate”, Avril trilled: “Serge asked me to mention that he doesn’t care whether you are sitting comfortably, or not. And please leave your telephones on, so our agent, Eyesore, Ewecumin can buzz you to crowd-fund the film rights. Bitcoin only, please.

Avril took a shallow breath, donned her purple nitrile gloves and picked up the Rizla paper on which “Veritywas inscribed. Squinting through her bee-veil, she intoned:

Where there are human beings, there exists the possibility of turmoil.

Then she ignited the paper and lit a patchouli-scented smoker. “The End”, she exhaled and ice-bucket-challenged herself. Symbolically.

Texting her wild applause, Jess Maidytup, Creative Arts correspondent of the Catering Times ad-libbed: “It’s a literary Tardis: it has just 11 words, but contains 68 characters and the bee-world’s testimony on mankind. This is the spoiler for every story ever told,  from the Bible to The Sun: people just screw stuff up. For me, it’s Serge’s signature dish, a purée de Pantalon which liberates us from the tedium of having to read books from cover to cover.”

Avril purred: “And remember, people, “Verity” is only available in three form-factors: Spotify Premium, fridge-magnet or luminous rubber wristband. Reckless!”

« Et voilà » shrugged the great man. And the screen went dark.

Serge Pantalon
Stop Press: Pantalon Snapped At His Beach Hideaway

Dancing In The Dark


At the LDKA apiary last Saturday (no, that’s not us at the apiary in the picture – more about that later!), the highlight of “going through” the hives with our tutor Penny Robertson, was seeing two foragers performing vigorous “waggle-dances” on the brood comb. As we watched this energetic ballet, a distant memory popped into my mind…

In 1999, I went on a charity-bike ride to Cuba. One night, in the (aptly-named, in my opinion) city of Colón in Matanzas, I was walking back to the team hotel in the pitch dark, thanks to a power-cut. As I stepped slowly past the large, arched, peeling windows of a row of Spanish colonial houses, I heard a muffled footfall and caught sight of a movement in the shadows inside one of the buildings.

I halted, as much apprehensive as inquisitive, and glimpsed through the open window a sight which was quite breath-taking – a family of four, two adults and two teenagers – dancing with silken elegance in the silent shadows….as if the music of their heartbeats, the welling of an unremembered rhythm, had risen like a tide and flooded their senses – so they danced anyway, through the dark, pin-drop silence of the power-cut.

Which brings us back to the bees’ “waggle-dance”: likewise a muted cha-cha, performed at home in total obscurity and with the participation of close family. Let me describe it to you, before suggesting a link which shows the “waggle-dance” and has a David Attenborough voice-over:  the “waggle-dance” is a hushed communication, with one bee dancing, at antenna’s length, from the circle of bees around her, like a lasses-only version of the Scottish reel “Dashing White Sergeant”, but performed without the lights on ! But over to that nice Mr. Attenborough for some visuals of:

The Waggle Dance

So the purpose of the “waggle-dance” is for the dancer to communicate the direction and distance from the hive of food sources.  Just like our own dances, the “waggle-dance” is conducted on a specific patch of comb. The returning forager dances to convey information about the nectar or pollen source which they have just visited by waggling their abdomens and moving on the comb, for the benefit of a small group of available foragers, who touch her with their antennae to gather information from her movements.

Looking at a bee “waggling” on the comb, the human brain understandably attempts to assign meaning in the optical plane. Close, but no cigar! Remember, in the bee-world inside the hive, all is dark, so visual communication is null and void. The actual meaning in the “waggle-dance” display is pulsed through vibration, as the dancer grips the comb and the signals resonate to her rapt audience. With the comb hanging downwards, as it does in nature, in its “waggle-dance” the bee encodes, relative to gravity, the distance and direction of the food source. The other bees absorb this pulsating intelligence, but by the time they are ready to fly from the hive to the feeding-zone, the instructions have been miraculously de-ciphered into a flight manual based on the orientation of their hive to the sun, specifically at that time of day. Amazing and accurate.

You may be one of the few fortunate souls on god’s green earth who has not been button-holed recently by a beekeeper complaining about how depressingly poor the last couple of years have been for bees. But in any case, you are probably aware of the severe pressure on bee-populations, of the trials and tribulations of the craft of beekeeping. But please take away from this monograph that, however tough it has seemed, there are still rewarding moments to be extracted, jewels of appreciation to be mined with a hive-tool – including the simple waggle of a single bee !

ps: For those wishing to delve deeper into the mysteries of the “waggle-dance” (and why foraging bees switch off their colour vision when flying back returning to their hive) I can recommend Jürgen Tautz’s “The Buzz About Bees – Biology Of A  Superorganism”.

pps: And for those who wish to see a drone “waggle-dancing”, (clue: plenty of noise, lights, music and purely recreational) – there’s always “Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen in 1984.

Wiggling And Waggling: The Amazing Bee Brain


Kuwait Stock Exchange

Australian research published by Proceedings of the Royal Society of London has shown that the bee brain has the ability to estimate energy expenditure while foraging for pollen.

“To make honey, bees must gather more nectar from flowers than the energy spent collecting it, so in order to forage efficiently they need to know how much energy each foraging trip costs them,” said Dr Andrew Barron, the author of the study and senior lecturer at Macquarie University.

Bees estimate distance visually, by watching the environment pass them during flight. Barron set out to determine whether bees also use this visual information to estimate their flight costs. His first step was to build two tunnels – one 10 metres long and one 20 metres long – and place feeders at the end of each to attract the bees. He then created an optical illusion to trick the bees into believing that the closest feeder was actually the furthest distance away.

“When bees return from a foraging expedition they let the other bees in the colony know where they have been and how good the nectar was by performing what’s known as the waggle dance,” Barron said. “The waggle dance performed by the bees in this study indicated that they were fooled by the illusion and believed that the feeder in the 10-metre tunnel was furthest away. Yet they could still tell somehow that they weren’t using up as much energy by flying to Therapy that feeder – they favoured that one anyway and advised the other bees to do the same.”

The results of the study showed the bees were definitely not using distance to estimate cost, but raised another question – how were they doing it?

“The bee brain has an incredibly simple make-up and yet it appears to possess an onboard calorimeter or stop-watch,” Barron said. “Our study showed that bees can separately calculate distance travelled and foraging efficiency and communicate both independently using different elements of their dance language. Such mental agility explains bees’ proficiency as nectar harvesters.”

Barron said his aim was to work out how the bee brain makes these complex calculations.

“Through their dance behaviour we get a window Bees into bee psychology and perception,” he said. “Bees are beautiful little animals with great personalities – and we’re only just getting a sense of how smart they really are.”