Yesterday I watched what is supposed to be the hive’s brightest talents give expression to our 300-million-year-old story of the flower quest. I’m sorry to say that my view was all too clear—it makes one long for a few thousand clambering workers to obscure your line of sight. The disheartening verdict:
Age Before Duty
There’s nothing sadder than watching a once-brilliant artist struggle to hang on to fading glory. In her prime, worker 38970 could lay out a waggle dance that made you see and smell the flowers before you lifted off; she mapped out a route that dropped you right down onto the pistil even if you flew it with your eyes closed. Now we are forced to endure this aging diva—35 days old if she’s an hour—drag herself pitifully in a serpentine tracing of the two loops, her stinger bumping behind because she’s too weak to lift it off the comb. Also, according to her, the nectar is easy to find—just fly 5 feet out and 12 feet down below ground level. For God’s sake, somebody eat her before it gets more pathetic.
Worker 40388 is one of the most technically proficient waggle dancers going right now, with crisp fouettés and brilliant coordination among all six legs. So why, at the end of the performance, are we left with the feeling that the dance was less about where the flowers are located than about the journey worker 40388 undertook to get there? How she had self-doubt, and a stiff headwind, and was dogged by an aggressive wasp, yet never gave up, never forgot about the hive or her sisters in need, or—of course—her ladyship, who needs to grow to fullest splendor. By the way, worker 40388, you don’t need to vibrate frenetically through the entire dance; we’re already looking at you and after a while it’s just so much noise.
Wit Without End
Puckish worker 48593 has demonstrated a droll outlook in her waggle-dance oeuvre, sending hive mates on one fool’s errand after another—to flour spilled on some human’s patio, or to plastic tulips on a garden table. However, at some point, these stunts became worker 48593’s crutch to hide a lack of talent. Her routine, a frantic yet incoherent sequence of jetés broken up by one entrechat in each loop, gives the viewer no insight into a flower’s location; after the pyrotechnics, we’re left wondering what it all was supposed to mean. (The drones, of course, lap it up.) Really, worker 48593, if you don’t care where the nectar is, why should we?
The Usual Subtext
Worker 79609 continues to use her waggle dance to animate the same “revolutionary” ideas most of us toyed with and discarded when we were larvae: Honeybees are credulous tools of the flowers! The hive’s authority is rooted in sororicide and matricide! Most of us live merely to work ourselves to death! Etc., etc. The shocking message she conveys is about as original as the arabesque she assumes at the end of her pedestrian dance. The subversive intent is clear enough, but, worker 92483, where is thy sting?
Worker 98475 is only 10 days old and it shows. Lopsided loops, inconsistent arcs, haphazard trembling—too much noise and not enough signal. Still, she radiates an ebullience I haven’t seen since worker 13983 found the botanical garden and lit up the swarm for days. I was just starting to get glimpses of raw talent when worker 98475 got dizzy and fell off the comb. If this is the future of the hive, we better start learning to metabolize grass.