Comment les abeilles apprennent à danser

For three decades, zoology has undergone two shocks. The first is due to what is called “man’s own”. With an final result: the more researchers seek, the more they temper the exceptional character of our species. The second concerns the eternal debate between the innate and the achievement. For a long time, humans have thought that (other) animals worked on instinct. Everything was written in their genes, once and for all, we thought. Learning could only focus on simple behavior, a change of food imposed, for example. Well no ! Like us, animals learn, transmit knowledge, skills, tastes. And the field of these social achievements, of these “cultural learning”, it is also said, continues to expand.

an article published Thursday, March 9 in The Revue Science shows it brilliantly on one of the most emblematic behaviors in social insects: bee dance. Let us recall the principle. When an explorer discovers a food source, she returns to the hive to announce her find. The eight -shaped course, accompanied by wriggles which she then performs, does not aim to celebrate the good news, like a footballer after a goal. The orientation, the duration, the speed of the movements inform its fellows about the direction to be taken, the distance to be covered and the quality of the feast to be expected. The icing on the honey department, it can drop a drop of nectar to help its friends better choose the flowers.

A true symbolic language out of such a small brain: to accept the same shaking, humans have long advanced an explanation. All of this was innate, written from birth. Was it not the Austrian Karl von Frisch who said it, on the sidelines of his incredible description of the phenomenon which earned him the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973? “In reality, we were blinded by dogma, says Lars Chittka, from Queen Mary University of London, summight of the discipline. They had the courage to question it.”

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They are four researchers from the Kunming Botanical Garden (China) and the University of California in San Diego (UCSD). They created colonies composed exclusively of young bees and compared their behavior to that of classical colonies, in which the ages vary. In the seconds, the juveniles discover the dance by observing their elders, then risk it. In the first, they act in instinct.

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