How Bees Select A New Hive

by Christopher Paul on February 24, 2012

From The Smithsonian:

Honey bees will split into two hives if the space they’re in gets too crowded. Researchers wanted to know how they choose a new site. After figuring out what bees look for in a potential hive, they sought to figure out how they decide on one place vs another:

Through years of study, Seeley and his colleagues have uncovered a few principles honeybees use to make these smart decisions. The first is enthusiasm. A scout coming back from an ideal cavity will dance with passion, making 200 circuits or more and waggling violently all the way. But if she inspects a mediocre cavity, she will dance fewer circuits.

Enthusiasm translates into attention. An enthusiastic scout will inspire more bees to go check out her site. And when the second-wave scouts return, they persuade more scouts to investigate the better site.

The second principle is flexibility. Once a scout finds a site, she travels back and forth from site to hive. Each time she returns, she dances to win over other scouts. But the number of dance repetitions declines, until she stops dancing altogether. Seeley and his colleagues found that honeybees that visit good sites keep dancing for more trips than honeybees from mediocre ones.

This decaying dance allows a swarm to avoid getting stuck in a bad decision. Even when a mediocre site has attracted a lot of scouts, a single scout returning from a better one can cause the hive to change its collective mind.

The article doesn’t just talk about how they makes decisions, it goes into what makes a good hive and why. It also goes into what makes their swarm mind different than a democracy even going so far as to suggest how meetings could be run better. If you’re into nature, read this.

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