Friday, 10 May 2013

Eavesdropping on bees

Tonight’s lesson was recursion; I had explained it a few days ago, and was testing her memory now.

“It’s like a picture inside a picture,” The Girl said. “Or a play inside a play.”

Absolutely right, I said. What would it be in language?

“If you say something like this, and inside this is something else like this, and so on,” she said.

Right, I said. Instead of just saying ‘The child got sick’ and ‘The child gave me a gift,’ you can say ‘The child that got sick gave me a gift.’ It’s one of the things that make human language different from other animals’.

“How do we know?” The Girl said.

Great question, I said – as far as we know, because we haven’t seen other animals do it, and because it lets us make technology, and no other animals do that.

“Do we know any other animal languages?” she asked.

The only one we speak fluently is bee, I said. We know exactly what they are saying to each other – you remember how?

"They do a bum-wiggle dance!” she said, imitating it.

That’s right, I said – they don’t have voices, but they have sign language.

“I can’t wait to get bees,” she said. “Then we can peek in and see what they’re saying about us behind our back!” 


Andy Brown said...

And most of the communication in the hive is done with chemicals, but we don't have the noses to even notice, much less make headway on deciphering it. I wonder if dogs were the scientists whether they'd have better luck? Which reminds me that I have to go check on my own hives to see if they're feeling crowded. If I don't give them a new box on time, the word goes out to prepare to swarm and I'd like to head off that particular perlocutionary act.

Brian Kaller said...


That's true -- I have often wondered what the world must look like to dogs in general.

I still have the box, but no bees yet -- after last year, there are few to go around and the waiting list is long. I hope this year. How many boxes do you have?

Andy Brown said...

I have three hives in our yard. My hives died out by this spring, together with a third to a half of the honeybee colonies in the US. There’s a shortage of bees here as well. I ordered early, but the only queens to be had are from the industrial breeders in the south.

Unfortunately, the US isn’t showing any sign of banning the prime suspect, neonicotinoid pesticides. Hopefully the coming (partial, temporary) ban in Europe will help save your bees over there.