There is strong evidence that a vibrational signal, the honey bee “stop signal” (Nieh 1993; Lau and Nieh 2010) inhibits the waggle dance. This inhibition reduces recruitment to a specific food location when the signal sender is attacked by a food competitor or potential predator at that location (Nieh 2010). Modeling demonstrates that this can significantly increase the efficiency of food exploitation by allowing the colony to reallocate its foraging labor away from food sources where foragers are endangered (Johnson and Nieh 2010). This discovery provides one of the most sophisticated examples of inhibitory signaling in a superorganism. Thus, as in intra- and inter-cellular communication, negative feedback may play an important, though currently underappreciated, role in self-organizing behaviors within superorganisms.
The video below was produced by UCSD television and provides a narrated introduction on the stop signal.
In the video below, the honey bee (Apis mellifera) in the upper left of the screen is moving down and using her head to butt against the bee in the center (this bee is painted with violet and white dots on her thorax). Simultaneously, she produces a short pulse of sound which is the stop signal. This signal has the effect of causing the receiver to either stop waggle dancing or to reduce the number of waggle dance circuits that she would perform. In this video, the receiver is still unloading her collected nectar to other bees who will concentrate it to produce honey. This video is repeated twice.
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Johnson BR, Nieh JC (2010) Modeling the adaptive role of negative signaling in honey bee intraspecific competition. Journal of Insect Behavior 23: 459-471
Lau CW, Nieh JC (2010) Honey bee stop-signal production: temporal distribution and effect of feeder crowding. Apidologie 41: 87-95
Nieh JC (2010) A negative feedback signal is triggered by peril and curbs honey bee recruitment. Current Biology 20: 1-6
Nieh JC (1993) The stop signal of honey bees: Reconsidering its message. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 33: 51-56