On this national day celebrating our democracy and enjoying the tradition of spending time outdoors in nature, we were pleased to learn that honey bees practice a form of democracy too.
Though honey bees may seem like a monarchy with a queen bee, upon closer inspection, biologists have observed that worker bees decide the location of the foraging and nesting sites that insure the survival of the colony.
Bees rely on coalition building and collective wisdom and effective decision making, posits Thomas Seely in his book “Honeybee Democracy” (2010).
Elaborating on Seely’s research, behavioral ecologist Noah Wilson-Rich explains in his own fascinating book, “The Bee, A Natural History” (2018), when it’s time for bees to choose a new nest, scouts are sent out to find the best location. Upon their return, they report to the hive through an elaborate dance. Multiple bees dance within a short time trying to convince the hive their location is best, much like a candidate debate. As new scout bees become convinced, they fly out to verify the location and report back with a similar dance. Eventually, based on the number of bees dancing for a proposed site, a decision is made and the new site selection is complete. Important as she is, says Wilson-Rich, the queen bee merely accompanies the swarm to a new site selected by the majority of the hive.
“Overall, decision making groups are collectively more intelligent than the smartest individuals within the group. Although the queen is superior, all decision making relies on the colony building a consensus,” explains Wilson-Rich.
Nature illustrates how the healthiest societies value the participation of all the individuals, maintaining the well being of the whole community and that everyone’s vote counts!
Happy 4th of July from the Buzz!