Group Decision Making in Honey Bee Swarms :
One of the turning points in the life of a honey bee colony is when a queen bee bequeaths her hive to her daughter queen, takes half the worker bees and goes off to start a new nest. The departing bees' process of deciding on a new home seems to take some time.
In the May-June issue of American Scientist magazine, Thomas D. Seeley, P. Kirk Visscher and Kevin M. Passino describe research that has uncovered how a swarm comes to a cooperative decision. The process, they say, is not exactly democratic, but rather a matter of reaching a threshold of consensus as bees endorse a particular site using their "waggle dancing."
For a group of about 10,000 bees, several hundred scout out nest sites, but it takes the build-up of just 10 to 20 bees at a site before the swarm starts to move to that location. Through experiments and mathematical modeling, Seeley and colleagues have shown that the bees' method is best at balancing the need to find a home quickly and choosing an ideal nesting site.
Seeley is a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. Visscher is an associate professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside; and Passino is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at The Ohio State University.