Strictly Bug Dancing

Friday 31st October 2014

Buglife Vice President Steve Backshall is an intrepid explorer, but he has probably never before done anything quite a brave as entering the national arena of Strictly Come Dancing

So far so good, Steve has put in a string of very competent dances.  Indeed given the amazing and flamboyant lifts that he pulled off so successfully in his Salsa a couple of weeks ago and then the elegant and strong waltz last week, some may feel that his middle of the table scores have been a little harsh! 

Over the next ten weeks (and we hope it is the whole of those ten weeks!) Steve will be dancing on live TV in front of 10 million viewers every week.  Steve is partnered with the professional dancer partner Ola Jordan who was winner in 2009. Steve Backshall and bug © James Bailey

When Ola was winning Strictly Steve Backshall was still recovering from having fractured his back and dislocated his ankle after falling 10 metres onto rocks while rock climbing in the Wye Valley.  

Steve had twelve operations following the accident, and years of rehab.  However, Steve’s physical fitness is proven, he is a judo black belt, accomplished kayaker, rock climber and fell runner.  Endurance won’t be an issue!

Bugs were dancing long before Rudolf Nureyev, indeed the first dancers were bugs and they have been gesticulating, embracing, pirouetting and gambolling for hundreds of millions of years.  So which bugs can Steve and Ola look to for inspiration?Honeybee © James Bailey


The waggle dance of the honeybee is an expression of the love affair between these insects and flowers.  Bees returning to the hive do a repeated oval or figure of eight dance with a waggle up one axis.  The positioning and direction of the dance communicates information to the other female worker bees about the direction and the distance of the pollen and nectar resources that the bee located, enabling the colony to find and utilise good nectar and pollen resources as soon as they come on-line.  This is a collaborative dance not a competitive dance so there are no points involved.

Dance style – Shimmy (don’t think this is on the Strictly repertoire!)



Perhaps the most romantic of all bug dances.  The man and lady face each other and hold claws then dancing the "promenade à deux".  The man initiates the dance by holding the lady’s claws with his own, the man then leads the lady around.  The dance can also incorporate a number of other moves, including juddering and cheliceral kisses, in which the man's chelicerae – small pincers near the mouth – grasp the lady's.  Sometimes the excited male injects a small amount of venom from his tail into her claw or body.  The dance climaxes when the male has manoeuvred them into the right spot, he then deposits a package of sperm, guides the lady over the package, which she picks up and is fertilised. 

Dance style – Viennese Waltz


Peacock spider (Maratus volans) © Jurgen Otto

Peacock spiders

Probably the John Travoltas of the invertebrate dance floor Peacock spiders have the most spectacular of dances.  It starts when a man sees a likely looking lady, he flicks and waves his black and white stripy legs over his head.  Then, when he has her attention, the most fantastic thing happens, he flicks up a multi-coloured iridescent disc that is usually wrapped around his abdomen, and waves it behind his head.  The dance, unique to each species of peacock spider, then continues until the lady awards her score for the dance.  If it is a high score she approaches him, sometimes turning and twerking her rear to show her intentions, and mating follows.  If the man does not score enough points the lady simply slopes away.

Dance style – Twerking (yes apparently that is a dance type)



The dance of mayflies is a mysterious expression of high energy movement.  Dozens or hundreds of men form a swarm, often above a bush or other prominent feature.  They vigorously yo-yo up and down at high speed.  A lady watches the dance like a highly discerning Darcey Bussell and when the moment is right she dives into the fray and couples up with her chosen suitor.  Her scoring criteria are unknown.

Dance style – Moshing (not sure this will be on Strictly either!)


Long-tailed dance flies

Lady Long tailed dance flies do not catch their own food, instead they dance for their dinners.  The ladies gather together to form a flying swarm, much as the men mayflies do, they then do something amazing, they swallow air and expand their abdomens into flattened balloons.  They then wrap their hairy legs around their bottoms to make them seem even bigger.  The man Long tailed dance fly scores the dance on the size of the abdomen and picks the lady with the biggest rear in the belief that she contains the most eggs (not true).  The winning dancer gets fed a prey gift and they mate.

Dance style – Samba



Cuttlefish © David Sim [CC-BY-2.0] Wikimedia Commons

This is a dance in which the patterns on the clothes matter more than the body movements.  When two males contest the affections of a lady cuttlefish they square up and colours and patterns spread and pulsate over their skin, and along their skirts, the effect is both startling and mesmerising.  Eventually one of the males is declared the artistic winner, which does not seem to require points from judges, and the loser turns pale and backs off. 

Dance style – Flamenco



Men and ladies tap out a rhythm with their abdomens on the plants on which they are standing.  Each species of lacewing has its own tap dance.  As they move around they detect the tapping of potential mates, draw together, and undertake a tap duet on the same leaf.  If the rhythm is right then points are awarded and mating ensues.

Dance style – Tap (why isn’t that featured on Strictly?)