The honeybee waggle dance communication system is an intriguing example of abstract animal communication and has been investigated thoroughly throughout the last seven decades. Typically, observables such as waggle durations or body angles are extracted manually either directly from the observation hive or from video recordings to quantify properties of the dance and related behaviors. In recent years, biology has profited from automation, improving measurement precision, removing human bias, and accelerating data collection. We have developed technologies to track all individuals of a honeybee colony and to detect and decode communication dances automatically. In strong contrast to conventional approaches that focus on a small subset of the hive life, whether this regards time, space, or animal identity, our more inclusive system will help the understanding of the dance comprehensively in its spatial, temporal, and social context. In this contribution, we present full specifications of the recording setup and the software for automatic recognition of individually tagged bees and the decoding of dances. We discuss potential research directions that may benefit from the proposed automation. Lastly, to exemplify the power of the methodology, we show experimental data and respective analyses from a continuous, experimental recording of 9 weeks duration.
Automatic methods for long-term tracking and the detection and decoding of communication dances in honeybees