Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley [Book Summary – Review]

You must be curious about what we may gain from honeybees. There is a lot to the question.

Asking 8,000 individuals where they wish to travel will result in a disorganized reply. However, a colony of 8,000 honeybees is extraordinarily adept at forming a consensus.

Annually, whenever the moment arises for a colony to select its new place, a small group of brave onlooker bees argues where to travel objectively and thoroughly.

You are in for a surprise if you consider this an impossible-to-complete assignment for a couple of tiny yellow humming bugs. You can learn how they accomplish this from all these sections.

You will discover in such sections

  • what characteristics allow a honeybee nesting ideal;
  • how a dancing honeybee exchanges messages; and
  • how honeybees can educate us to make decisions.

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Chapter 1 – Annually, bees engage in a convoluted, election system to select a new nesting location.

There seems to be a certain incident that occurs annually, much more to the chagrin of beekeepers worldwide. One-third of the bees in a colony will congregate into a large, humming mass and establish a swarm on a neighboring branch of a tree in June or July. Before actually buzzing off to a completely new habitat, bees remain together for several hours or even days.

However, how do bees pick a new house? How do bees ensure that it is sufficiently large and secure for an entire colony? How do bees know which direction to take when everyone flies on at once?

The researcher has learned through decades of meticulous study the dynamic and intriguing procedure by which honeybees pick a new home. It was so profound that we might all benefit from all this.

The main point is that bees undergo a lengthy, free and fair selection procedure to select a new nesting location annually.

Honeybees have long captivated people, and from the beginning of history Egyptians, people have maintained honeybees for their honey. Yet it wasn’t until the 1900s that we started to comprehend things, and just a few of that research was carried out by a trailblazing German researcher by the title of Martin Lindauer.

Lindauer came upon something strange while observing a cluster of honeybees one day in 1951. Just several honeybees were engaged in wobble movements, which they utilize to signal one another the location of honey. But unlike usual, these wobble movements were also not identical to one another. For starters, the performers were also not typically holding pollen. Additionally, a majority of them appeared to be filthy; one was dressed in soot, another in marble powder, and a third appeared to be coated in wheat.

Lindauer suspected something. Have all these honeybees been looking about for a fresh place to live?

After decades of testing, Lindauer was finally able to prove his theory. The writer then carried on with this study in the USA. The more information researchers know about the intricate procedure used by honeybees to decide where to construct their nest, which can mean the difference between life and death, the more pleased they were with the primary debate abilities of the honeybees. The writer now even conducts discussions using techniques influenced by wild bees!

Overall, the nest-finding procedure is so fascinating that it is worthwhile to study it in depth. In the subsequent sections, we will carry out all that tasks.

Chapter 2 – A colony of bees functions like a united, incredibly well-coordinated entity.

Honeybees, exactly, what are they? Let’s review several foundational concepts before actually diving into the writer’s study like a honeybee into a blooming blossom.

Wasps existed earlier than honeybees. It appears that wasps gave rise to honeybees approximately a hundred million years earlier, during the age of the dinosaurs. The main distinction between honeybees and wasps seems to be that honeybees are strictly predatory, surviving solely on plant nectar.

There are roughly 10,000 different species of bees, and the majority of honeybees breed and survive alone. However, bees are very social insects. Creatures work collectively so well as a group that, despite consisting of about 10,000 people, they are frequently referred to as a living system.

​​The main takeaway from this is that a colony of bees functions as a unified, expertly coordinated unit.

The queen is the colony’s center and, apart from her regal title, her only responsibility is to produce eggs. She has 100,000 eggs every summer.

The bulk of such eggs grows into female laborer honeybees, which seem to be laborer bees. Just around 5 percent of the swarms are men, and their only job is to locate queens from neighboring hives and reproduce with them.

Plans for the colony start just after the queen produces eggs in a handful of the bee’s cells, referred to as queen organisms. The staff starts treating the queen strangely; they give her fewer, while also start sweating and scratching her. She will ultimately lose roughly 20% of her body mass, making her lightweight enough to fly.

The beehive will indeed be prepared to cluster just several days later, at which point one-third of the honeybees, including the queen, will leave the home and never come back. For the time being, they will land on a nearby tree.

While this is happening, a young queen at the initial colony rises from her cage and toots to alert the colony of her arrival.

She might get into trouble when she gets a quack in response. Additional young queens preparing to emerge from their cages can be heard quacking. A battle to the dead will ensue when more than a single queen appears.

However, this is a different tale. The colony of honeybees that has left and is currently as you recollect, dangling dangerously from a branch will be the subject of our discussion.

Chapter 3 – To choose the ideal new property, bees attentively assess the following nesting places.

For a period ranging from a couple of hours to several days, the bees can simply wait on their nearby tree. They will not choose their destination in a hurry; it’s just too crucial. The swarm might not survive the cold season if they choose the incorrect spot.

And yet what kind of places are they specifically looking for? What constitutes the great house for bee colonies?

Recall Martin Lindauer, the previous swarm specialist. He said that the preferred technique to learn could be to “consult the honeybees directly” early in 1950. Therefore the writer did precisely that.

The main point is that bees thoroughly assess various nesting places to choose the ideal current property.

The writer decided to do his study on New Britain’s Appledore Beach, which is located off its Maine mainland. That was the ideal location. It was remote from the continent and had pleasant weather, but there weren’t any native bees. The writer’s honeybees would also have complete freedom to roam.

He created a collection of cages with movable dimensions and placed them in various locations throughout the area. Subsequently, he carried out several meticulous studies to ascertain among the numerous cages the honeybees preferred and the criteria they were considering.

It was discovered that the honeybees preferred a nesting place with a volume of roughly 30 liters and a tiny entry at the bottom measuring only 15 square centimeters in size. They favored the home towards the south, possibly due to it being hotter. This was also preferable if the home was high off the ground since it was more difficult to strike.

The honeybees were unconcerned with other issues. They did not seem to care if the area was short or circular, damp or drafty, or any other feature since they could remedy those issues themselves.

What exact methods does a bee use to gather each of this knowledge? The finding revealed that a bumblebee occupies an estimated 36 minutes traveling within his synthetic homes on Appledore Beach, roaming around and doing brief flights.

This allows these amazing little critters to conduct a thorough survey, involving determining the size of a place. After finishing, the honeybee returns to its colony with a wealth of knowledge to share.

Chapter 4 – Worker bees progressively come to an understanding of possible nesting places.

There are numerous variations in democracy. Public participation, in which people take actions in favor of the populace, is the norm in modern affairs. But bees employ a structure where so many people actively make choices, which is more akin to true democracy.

Not the whole colony, yet a few hundred knowledgeable bees called onlooker bees, make the decisions. Those are the honeybees that take to the air to search for possible nesting areas.

However, they do not inform a formal hierarchy with their expertise. Alternatively, they share it with their friends, who then decide for themselves. In this manner, a genuine agreement gradually develops.

The main takeaway from this is that onlooker bees communicate probable nesting places and progressively come to an understanding.

The majority of the time, a honeybee will immediately begin a waggle dance after returning from a good probable nesting place. The data supplied by this performance help the honeybees in the area find the spot by indicating their location concerning the colony and its motion concerning the sun.

However, the dance includes an additional crucial element. The value of a location can be determined by a bee’s movement, as the writer learned on Appledore Beach. A bumblebee can dance with moderate excitement if the nest location is simply average; on the other end, a top-notch place results in a ferocious performance that the bumblebee keeps repeating frequently.

This longer-lasting, more animated dance attracts the interest of numerous additional onlooker bees. Consequently, additional honeybees decide to visit the location to view it for themselves.

Because of this, a top-notch nesting place gradually receives more support. Each impassioned dance starts a chain reaction that results in more ones.

The process could occasionally go incorrectly. Two similar possible nesting places were discovered by one of Martin Lindauer’s swarms, and both received a significant amount of assistance from the bouncing onlooker bees. Once the colony finally took flight, something amazing occurred: it divided in half. The queen got trapped in the chaos, and the honeybees reluctantly went back to their old colony.

Why is that not something that occurs frequently? Why do not honeybees split up frequently if any great nesting place receives growing attention? We will examine how bees have streamlined this intricate procedure in the subsequent section.

Chapter 5 – While selecting a fresh nesting place, mishaps are uncommon.

After leaving Appledore Beach, the writer came up with a study to see how frequently honeybees select the optimal nesting location. He placed four containers around the beach, with one container being the perfect one and the other three being the sole ones that would do. Subsequently, each by one, he advised each of the four colonies to select a new residence.

The optimal location was chosen by three of the four swarms. Although it was not the best possible result, it was evidence that bees are good at choosing the right course of action.

The main takeaway is that selecting a new nesting place rarely involves errors.

Why not receive 100 percent? A highly uncommon occurrence occurred in the one case where the honeybees selected a less than optimal location: none of the honeybees who discovered and rated the optimal spot waggle danced once they returned. As a result, no one heard about it.

That unintentional error highlights an important aspect of the procedure. Any bee could commit mistakes, yet when a lot of honeybees are doing the same task, the danger is reduced and the optimal choice also often becomes apparent in the end.

Let’s take a closer look at one particular honeybee, called Red, once the color glob the writer splattered on her abdomen, to comprehend the procedure properly. Red eventually discovered a great place to build a home. She did an enthusiastic dance for an entire five minutes once she got home. She subsequently returned to the location for a second assessment. However, she did not dance in any way when she got back from this second voyage.

Interestingly, stopping the promotion of a location quite quickly is common scout conduct. To put it another way, onlooker bees perform a task that people can’t control: they gradually lose the zeal for their beliefs. And, surprisingly, that substantially accelerates the procedure.

Firstly, keep in mind that the location will not typically be neglected because several honeybees may have gone out just to check it for themselves following the opening dance, as was the case with Red’s location. Secondly, losing interest is advantageous to honeybees since it ensures that subpar locations will never succeed in attracting visitors. An ordinary site won’t have any bees firmly supporting it, therefore eventually there won’t be any more.

Because that is not how people are; we are obstinate! And maybe there is something the honeybees can teach us. We may take increasingly frequent breaks from arguments and place our confidence in persons besides ourselves.

Chapter 6 – A bee colony moves together with amazing coherence whenever it is time to relocate.

A prospective future nesting place will gradually gather sufficient encouragement that the honeybees are prepared to come in, assuming nothing exceptional occurs. What happens then?

How precisely do 9,000 honeybees in a colony decide to leave their current hive and migrate to a fresh one? How precisely does the colony arrive here at all? And besides, just a small portion of the onlooker bees, if any, have visited the location.

It does not come as a shock to you that the honeybees have created their unique clever solutions.

The main takeaway from this is that bee swarms work together with extraordinary coherence whenever it is time to take flight.

Examine how bees determine when and how to depart for their new nesting place initially. Researchers spent a lot of time trying to figure everything out, and yet the writer found the solution on Appledore Beach.

You could presume that the honeybees make their decision to leave the old colony when one agreement has indeed been formed there. And that is not accurate. There is no proof that anyone is trying to reach an agreement. The onlooker bees would indeed start the migration when they began to see about 10 or 20 additional worker bees at the current location, according to the writer’s constant observations. They just verify if a certain location has enough approval instead of verifying that the entire colony is in accord.

When an employed bee is certain that the right moment has arrived, she goes to the nest again and starts whistling, which is a strong sound. The honeybees are made aware of the impending movement by this, which causes them to heat the cluster in preparation.

The onlooker bees then exhibit distinct characteristics once more. They immediately begin buzzing racing, which is very similar to what it seems like: they sprint across the cluster while extending their legs and making loud whistling noises. It serves as a blatant warning of what is going to occur.

Once the colony has taken flight, the onlooker bees will take direction. This conduct was proven in 2007 by employing cutting-edge computing equipment to follow any single honeybee in a cluster. The onlooker bees continuously shot off to the center, indicating where and how to proceed, as the writer and his coworkers saw.

The colony progressively decelerates because it gets closer to the place and stops gracefully just outside. The honeybees enter their new habitat one by one and begin working right away.

Chapter 7 – The way bees make decisions democratically could teach us a lot.

As we have previously established, a colony of honeybees resembles an individual organism in certain ways. More precisely, it could be compared to a huge, humming mind since it functions similarly. A single honeybee is comparable to a nerve cell because it serves a minor but essential role in data collection and analysis such that choices can be taken.

However, viewed from a new angle, honeybees may also be compared to individuals. In essence, as the writer has discovered, studying how bees decide things may be able to teach us how to create proper judgments as a society.

The main takeaway from this is that humans can gain a great deal from how bees democratically make decisions.

We must first point out that, beyond the obvious distinctions, there are several unexpected aspects involving people and honeybees. The fact that bees constantly keep the same objective in mind—the maintenance of the hive—is the most significant. Individuals routinely strive toward various objectives.

However, honeybees could serve as an example of how one should act in circumstances where people’s interests coincide, such as at a commission meeting or local session held.

Putting minimal stock in managers is a great initial lesson. There is no chance that such employed bees could steer the colony in the wrong direction because all of the honeybees’ views are equally weighted. Human managers also frequently make incorrect decisions for a team.

The search for alternative answers is a further important lesson. Onlooker bees search for nesting places from a variety of angles, increasing the number of possible locations. In the same manner, it is indeed wise to consider all of your alternatives before actually deciding on any group setting.

Third, think about making decisions the way honeybees do. It can be worthwhile to move on with an initiative after it becomes evident that it will work, regardless of whether everyone agrees if the group only has to make a decent choice rather than necessarily a flawless one. Similar to how onlooker bees lead the colony’s initial migration to a new location.

Allowing individuals to purchase information on their own is the last instruction. Discussions become stronger and more educated when individuals are given the freedom to develop their ideas. Onlooker bees always independently assess potential locations, increasing the likelihood that the suitable position will receive the greatest aid if there are sufficient honeybees.

It appears that there is still a lot we can learn from the intriguing behaviors of bees.

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley Book Review

Annually, one-third of the bees in a colony will depart their nest and stay just several weeks in a branch. In the meantime, a brave band of onlooker bees will make a thorough assessment of possible new units nearby. Bees have developed a methodical and efficient method that allows them to nearly always choose the best option. This method may be a template for great decisions for each of us.

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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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