Karl Von Frisch



Karl Von Frisch was an Austrian ethologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1973 along with Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen for his pioneering work in the field of animal physiology and behavior. He is best known for two major discoveries about honey bees. He demonstrated that honey bees have colour vision and showed that honey bees use a dance language to communicate food locations to other bees.


Frisch was born in Vienna in 1886 into a family dedicated to science. His studies also proved that fish have acute hearing. By the time Frisch reached college age, it was clear that his interests were focused on zoology. His father thought medicine was a more practical field than zoology, and in 1905 Frisch enrolled as a student of medicine at the University of Vienna. But medical school, proved invaluable in providing a background in histology, anatomy and human physiology. His uncle encouraged him to pursue his interest in animals by aiding him in a research project on the position of pigments in the compound eyes of certain beetles, butterflies and crustaceans. He finally decided to drop his medical studies to pursue the field of ethology, or the study of animal behavior. He transferred to the Zoological Institute at the University of Munich.
He demonstrated a test to prove that honey bees have colour vision using a grid of cards. He trained the bees to feed on sugar water set on the blue card. He then set the blue card in the middle of an array of gray-toned cards. If the bees are colour blind and see the blue card as a shade of gray, then they will confuse the blue card with at least one of the gray-toned cards and will visit more than one card in the array. If they have colour vision, the bees will visit only the blue card, as it is visually distinct from the other cards. It so happened that the bees visited only the blue card and he concluded that bees do have colour vision.
Frisch observed that once one honey bee finds a feeding station, many others soon appear at the same station. He developed a glass cage in which he placed a single honeycomb that could be observed from all sides. Frisch concluded that honey bees who foraged for food for the whole honeycomb, conveyed this information to the other bees by performing a kind of dance on the honeycomb. This dance excited the forager bees, who then flew directly to the food.
Frisch then began investigating the hearing of fish. They did not have any of the characteristics thought to be necessary for the sense of hearing, like ear lobes, auditory canals, middle ears, or a cochlea in the inner ear. He whistled to blind catfish before feeding them. Then he whistled but did not feed them. They continued to respond.
In an article in Science magazine regarding the Nobel Prize, Frisch was praised for teaching the world that “Human behavior is not something outside nature, but something that is subject to the principles that mold the biology, adaptability and the survival of other organisms.”

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