How bees decide
When a hive gets too crowded, half the bees (together with the queen) swarm temporarily to a nearby tree to wait while several hundred go and scout for a new home. But how do they decide which site is best?
Researchers at Cornell University have now documented that the bees go through a group decision-making process, steadily narrowing down the options until a quorum develops.1,2 It’s long been known that honeybee scouts ‘waggle dance’ to report on food. This latest research confirms that they dance to report on real estate, too—the better the housing site, the stronger the waggle dance, and that prompts other scouts to visit the site.
If they agree it’s a good choice, they return to the swarm, and their waggle dance stirs other scouts to investigate the potential site, and so on. The researchers say that scouts advertising different sites compete to persuade uncommitted scouts to assess that proposed location. As bees grade their recruitment signals according to site quality, scouts build up most rapidly at the best site. Once a ‘quorum’ of scouts is in agreement, they signal to the waiting swarm it’s time to move.
‘This is a striking example of decision making by an animal group that is complicated enough to rival the dealings of any department committee,’ said Cornell University’s Thomas Seeley. He and his colleagues found that when the range of potential sites was equal in quality, it took the swarm longer to decide than in situations where one site was clearly superior (e.g. in size).
‘The bees’ method … consistently yields excellent collective decisions,’ said Seeley.
One wonders how the bee ancestors survived while this system of communication and group decision making was evolving? Like the bees’ navigation system, it did not and could not have evolved, but reflects the design and purpose of the Creator.
- Dancing bees, <creation.com/beedance>
- Can it bee?, <creation.com/bee>
- Q&A: What are some design features in insects (and other invertebrates)?, <creation.com/entomology>
- Lang, S., How 10,000 bees decide where to go when they fly the coop—decision-making to rival any department committee, Cornell University Chronicle Online, 9 June 2006. Return to text.
- Seeley, T., Visscher, P. and Passino, K., Group decision making in honey bee swarms, American Scientist, 94(3):220–229, May–June, 2006. Return to text.