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Good Beehavior

Elizabeth Slocum’s “Hive Minded” (fall 2017) reminded me of a wonderful lab I had in the 1960s in Professor Kenneth Rawson’s Biology of Animal Communities class—one of my first experiences with a science class where the labs weren’t meant to test how well you could reach a “correct” answer.

We had an elegantly designed study to verify the theory of Karl von Frisch that bees communicated the direction and distance of food with the famous “waggle dance.” (Some scientists countered that bees were directed toward food based solely on scent.) We used the hive behind Martin Biological Laboratory, tagged individual bees by gluing tiny numbers from an electronics parts catalog on their backs, set up scented and unscented sugar water around campus, and observed the bees exiting the hive, feeding, and returning.

The results were—alas—equivocal. My first (but hardly last) taste of the realities and frustrations of actual research! Of course, decades later, the “waggle dance” is now accepted as how honeybees communicate.
—BOB CUSHMAN ’71, Oak Ridge, Tenn.