Frisch, Karl von (frĭsh) [key], 1887–1982, Austrian zoologist, b. Vienna, Austria. He studied zoology with Richard von Hertwig, whom he later succeeded as professor of zoology at Munich Univ. For his pioneering work in comparative behavioral physiology, particularly his studies of the complex communication between insects, von Frisch was awarded the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. In his early work he showed that fish and honeybees can see colors, fish can hear, and bees can distinguish dozens of closely related floral scents. In 1923 he described as a simple language the round and waggle dances of honeybees. He found that round dances mean that food is nearby and waggle dances mean that there is food at a distance. The straight component of the waggle dance points the way to the food, and the duration of the dance indicates the distance. In some cases bees orient themselves by the direction of the sun or, if the sky is overcast, by the polarization of light from patches of blue sky. An important implication of von Frisch's work is that behavioral continuity exists between animal communication and human language.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.