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Bees Dance Their Way to Decisions Offering Lessons for Sweeeter Lives

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 7, 2010
Updated: Thursday, February 17, 2011

Groups can be much smarter than the smartest individuals in them, as world renowned animal behaviorist Thomas B. Seeley shows in his description of the amazingly wise and collaborative way honey bees go about house hunting.

In his new book Honeybee Democracy, Seeley tells how about two thirds of every honey bee hive relocates to a new home each spring, while the remainder of the bees stay in their old home to raise and nurture a new queen. Of the thousands who swarm away to new quarters, most mass together creating a temporary lodging while a few hundred scouts fly off in different directions to look for potential new nesting sites. Scouts return to the new hive individually, and convey information about quality and location of their discovery through movements known as a waggle dance. That recruitsnew scouts to check out the sites. If a new scout agrees with her sister's assessment, she comes back to the hive and does the same dance. This extraordinary process of exploration and communication continues for a day or two, and eventually many sites will have been investigated and scouts will have reached a consensus on the best one. When they happens, the whole hive is aroused and the bees swarm en masse to build a new home.

The book is reviewed by Katherine Bouton in the September 28 New York Times.

The review quotes Seeley's conclusion in the book: "Some have said that honeybees are messengers sent from the gods to show us how to live: in sweetness and in beauty and peacefulness." Seeley notes similarities between the way bees swarm and the way primate brains process information. And he believes there are lessons to be learned form the way bees collaborate, gather data, analyze, communicate, reach consensus and then make an urgent decision all their lives will depend upon.

New Clues on a Bee Mystery

Remember colony collapse disorder? The affliction has decimated as many as 40 percent of bee colonies in the U.S. over the last five years. Scientists have explored numerous causes, ranging from weather change to pesticides and genetically modified food. Entomologists and military scientists now believe the malady has been produced by the conbination of a virus and a fungus. A New York Times story by Kirk Johnson and a paper in the online science journal PLoSOne explain scientists aren't sure exactly how the two adversities kill the bees. Both the fungus and the virus proliferate in cool, damp weather, and both impact the bee gut, presumably impairing nutrition. The finding is expected to further research into how colony collapse disorder can be prevented.

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