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.
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