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Do Bees Have Ears & How Is Their Hearing?

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What do you know about the hearing of bees? 

You may not have ever thought about this, but it’s actually an interesting question. 

Bees are one of the most important insects in our ecosystem. Understanding them better can help us understand more about our world, nature, and our ecosystem. 

Bees have a really interesting sense of hearing, thanks to their antennae – and that’s what we’ll discuss more in this article.

Do Bees Have Ear?

Bees do not have ears, but they can still hear. Instead of using ears like humans, they use their whole body to pick up on sound waves. They have a unique ability to pick up on vibrations in their environment. 

Several research experiments have confirmed that bees use both sensory cells in their antennae (Johnson’s organ) and organs in their legs (subgenual organs), though they can only hear the sound within a certain frequency spectrum. [1]

honey-bee-close-up

Can Bees Hear?

Yes, bees can hear, but not with ears. They don’t have eardrums, which is what most animals use to hear sounds. Instead, they rely on vibration detection to pick up sound. 

This also means that bees do not really hear sounds but rather rely more on vibrations.

Bees specifically use a particular part of their antennae called Johnson’s organ found in the pedicel of each antenna. Sound vibrations are picked up by the subgenual organs found in their legs.

Bees can use sound to communicate about food sources and have been trained during scientific experiments to respond to sound signals.

bees flying together around the flower

How Do We Know That Bees Can Detect Sound?

Through the years several experiments have been conducted to confirm whether or not bees can hear.

Karl von Frisch has done extensive research on bees and was even awarded a Nobel prize on the topic. He explained that bees, after finding nearby food sources, will communicate with others in the hive to let them know where they can find it. [2]

They do this through the “waggle dance”. This is a dance bees perform, where they communicate through vibrations.

A. Hansson of the University of Lund, Sweden confirmed this.

How Do Bees Hear if They Don’t Have Ears?

Bees also perceive sound, but they don’t have ears. They use their legs and antenna to sense vibrations. When bees walk on the ground or fly around, they make tiny sounds. [3]

Related: Bee legs

Honey Bee on a Flower

Air-Borne Vibration

Bees use air-borne vibration when navigating an area. But how? 

Being able to hear and feel sounds gives bees an advantage in operating in areas with minimal light sources, such as at night or inside a dark hive. The range of frequencies that bees can hear is between 10 Hz and 70  kHz. [4]

Air-borne vibration is transmitted through the air and into the substrate that it impacts, such as a flower or a plant stem. 

This allows bees to receive information on their surrounding environment and use this information to guide them to their destination. 

The vibrations resonate across the substrate and eventually reach the bee. 

bees flying in large numbers

The same principle is found in other organisms as well. The night-flying moth Noctua pronuba uses vibrational signals from the substrate to detect the presence of, and avoid colliding with, objects such as tree trunks or foliage.

Substrate-Borne Vibration

Substrate-borne vibration is a modality in which bees use to “see” their environment in detail [5]

They use it to orient themselves and communicate. Scientists first observed that bees used substrate-borne vibration as a sensory modality back in 1964, but only recently has the idea been tested.

This type of vibration tends to travel better than airborne vibration, so this is a more efficient way for bees to communicate. 

It has been shown that this seismic activity can be sensed by other animals, including ants and spiders. As such, substrate-borne vibration helps to create a “carpet” of activity that bees can use to navigate their environment.

swarm of bees on apiary

Intra-Specific Communication

Intra-Specific Communication is when one bee in a hive communicates with another individual by using the antennae, eyes, and body language. 

It is an important behavior for the bees in the hive to survive, as they need to find food, communicate the location of flowers, and share directions. 

Bees use their antennae to touch one another.

This communication is called “tactile communication.” Tactile communication is used to communicate where the food source is.

When bees are foraging for food, they use their eyes and antennae to find the location of the flowers. They communicate the location of food through tactile signals and vibrations, and also by dancing.

giant honey bee

How Do Bees Use Sound Information?

Bees use sound information to find their way home and communicate with other bees. Bees make sounds by buzzing their wings or doing the waggle dance.

The structures of the bees’ bodies let them turn vibrations into electrical signals so they can identify what is making the sound.

Bees also use sound to find food. They will tell other bees where they can find food.

The Waggle Dance

The Waggle Dance, or “dance language” of the honey bee, is a form of communication used to indicate direction and distance from flowers. It is performed by scout bees returning from a successful foraging flight. [6]

The dance takes place on a vertical surface of the hive, such as a wall or the face of a bee comb. 

The dancer moves its body in a figure-eight pattern about 1 centimeter long to communicate information about the location and distance of a food source, such as nectar or pollen.

bee flying alone in a flower

Flowers Can Hear Bees

Some flowers have evolved to hear bees. When they hear bees nearby, they can increase their production of nectar to lure in the bees.

This is done to have the bees collect and distribute pollen for the flower.

Bees have evolved to use flowers as a resource, not only for nectar and pollen like many other insects but also as a source of information. They can pick up on how fresh the flower is or whether it has already been visited by another bee using their sense of vibration.

One way that bees do this is by emitting a low hum into the flower, similar to how humans talk or sing, which scientists call “vibration signaling”. This vibration causes the petals of the flower to oscillate and transmit an echo back to the bee.

Bee on a sunflower

Conclusion

To summarize, bees don’t have ears, but they can still hear using Johnson’s organs in their antennae, as well as the subgenual organs in their legs.

They use this information for a number of things, the most important being to pick up on food sources. Bees can do a waggle dance, where their let other bees know where they can find food. This dance emits vibrations, that the bees can pick up on.

Related: Bee Anatomy

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.

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