Now, though, it turns out that the warning signal may be the exceptional use rather than the rule. Through study of two in-the-wild hives and a manufactured observational hive, the NTU researchers were able to show that the signal happened too often and at the wrong times of day (at the evening, for example, when bees don't waggle dance) to be purely a warning message to wagglers.
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To listen in on all the chatter, the researchers rigged the hives with accelerometer sensors that continuously recorded vibrational frequency and amplitude throughout one year. Then, custom software allowed them to pore over the vibrations in search of meaningful pulses.
Meanwhile, the observational hive held a video camera that recorded bees in real-time with the vibrations they were making.
The team called its system the first to monitor successfully bee messages over a long period without being invasive to the colony.
Once all of the bee talk was examined, the researchers observed that the signal formerly thought of as a warning to wagglers was happening a lot.
"We have found that this signal is remarkably common, much more than previously thought," said study co-author Martin Bencsik, NTU researcher and physicist, in a statement. He added, of the signal's meaning: "We believe that in only a small number of instances is it used as an inhibitory [warning] signal and therefore have proposed a new name: the 'whooping signal.'"
"Through our work we are expanding the understanding of honeybee communication," added co-author Michael T. Ramsey. "This vibrational pulse was originally known as the 'begging signal,' as it was believed to be a request for food. Then it was thought to be a purely inhibitory 'stop signal.' Now we have taken this another step forward. It shows promise that our methods can be used as a sensitive way of monitoring and assessing colony status for these hugely important pollinators."
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