How Bees Find a New Home
How do honeybees find a new home? In the same way they do most everything: Through a highly regimented, hierarchical yet democratic process—with dancing!
Yes, a variation on the “waggle dance” that scout bees use to communicate food finds is also employed when bees go real estate shopping, writes biologist, professor, and bee watcher par excellence Thomas D. Seeley in “Honeybee House Hunting” in Northern Woodlands magazine. A “search committee” is also involved, reports Seeley, as well as a lobbying and voting process that looks a lot like a political race. Once a scout has found a house site, she recruits supporters among fellow scouts and uses a waggle dance to tell them where it is, so they can take their own home tours. Meanwhile, writes Seeley,
Other scouts that have found other potential nesting sites will be vigorously advertising their proposals as well, so the uncommitted scouts are being actively recruited to various camps. All this makes the surface of the swarm look at first like a riotous dance party, but eventually the scouts choose a winner.
They do so in a most ingenious way. It works much like a political election, for there are multiple candidates (nest sites), competing advertisements for the different candidates (waggle dances), individuals who are committed to one or another candidate (scouts supporting a site), and a pool of undecided voters (scouts not yet committed to a site). At times, supporters for a site can become apathetic and rejoin the pool of undecided voters. The election’s outcome is biased strongly in favor of the best site because this site’s supporters produce the strongest dance advertisements and thus gain supporters the most rapidly, and because the best site’s supporters will revert to neutral-voter status the most slowly. Ultimately, the bees supporting one of the sites build up a large majority and return to the swarm cluster to initiate the swarm’s move.
Read the rest on Utne.com.