Discovering decision-making secrets in a bee swarm

The decision-making power of honey bees is a prime example of what scientists call swarm intelligence. Clouds of locusts, schools of fish, flocks of birds and colonies of termites display it as well. In the field of swarm intelligence, Tom Seeley is a towering figure. For 40 years he has come up with experiments that have allowed him to decipher the rules honey bees use for their collective decision-making.

From Smithsonian:

On the front porch of an old Coast Guard station on Appledore Island, seven miles off the southern coast of Maine, Thomas Seeley and I sat next to 6,000 quietly buzzing bees. Seeley wore a giant pair of silver headphones over a beige baseball cap, a wild fringe of hair blowing out the back; next to him was a video camera mounted on a tripod. In his right hand, Seeley held a branch with a lapel microphone taped to the end. He was recording the honeybee swarm huddling inches away on a board nailed to the top of a post.

Seeley, a biologist from Cornell University, had cut a notch out of the center of the board and inserted a tiny screened box called a queen cage. It housed a single honeybee queen, along with a few attendants. Her royal scent acted like a magnet on the swarm.

If I had come across this swarm spread across my back door, I would have panicked. But here, sitting next to Seeley, I felt a strange calm. The insects thrummed with their own business. They flew past our faces. They got caught in our hair, pulled themselves free and kept flying. They didn’t even mind when Seeley gently swept away the top layer of bees to inspect the ones underneath.

For more, see: The secret life of bees

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