Social Instincts of Bees
Douglas Moreman
Modified on



Karl von Frisch. Described dances of the bees. Created methods of research.

Martin Lindauer. Studied under von Frisch. Discovered details, including dancing of scouts, about the swarming of honey bees.

Thomas Seeley here lectures in a video about the behavior of a swarm of bees seeking a new nest site. He created new methods and has done some of the best field work. But, he uses human politics, Western style, rather than mathematics to form his analogies for understanding.

After listening to Seeley,
Questions and factoids about honey bees:

The word "swarm" here refers to the old queen and about half the workers leaving a hive-site, looking for a new hive-site.

Does some subset of the spawned swarm lead the others to a place from which to lauch those scouts which seek a new hive-site?

After the gang of scouts has agreed among themselves upon a new hive-site, by what signalling is the bulk of the hive induced to launch into the air? If the hive refuses to launch, what does this gang of scouts then do?

What subset of a hive makes a decision that the hive will now launch into the air, to swarm for a new hive-site?

What clues, possibly cascading signals, suggest that a hive is about to swarm?
Has anyone studied induced by hormones related to states of hives?
Does a swarm ever move to a new temporary site, while seeking a new hive-site? Does a swarm, perhaps driven by desparation, ever try to conquer an existing, occupied hive-site? Does an entire hive ever leave an existing hive-site? seeking a better one. (Yes: Absconding bees).
How many days, typically, can a swarm hunt before it dies?
How does a scout bee find a small hole? (entrance to a cavity)
Having found a small hole unworthy, does a scout remember not to re-visit that same hole later? How many bad holes can a scout remember?
How do scouts reduce time wasted in the over-lapping of their searches?
What proportion of scouts initially actually scout? Many wait on the hive (their fellow bees, mostly not scouts) until they are recruited via dancing.
Does the proportion of scouts that scout increase over time or do all the inital non-seekers just wait to be recruited?
How many acts of following a dancer does a recruitable scout do before it flies towards the indicated site?
How does a recruitable scout avoid being confused by scouts dancing for two different sites?
A scout that is checking-out a cavity might leave and re-enter that cavity more than 20 times. Seeley did not say what she does when outside the cavity. Does she go back to the hive and dance? Does she hang around outside providing a visual cue for recruited scouts trying to find the hole?
Aiming cannot be perfect. Must, for distance sites, be off by hundred of yards. How is time-saving course-correction made possible? One way, might be for some bees already at the site to be visible outside of it.
How does the collective of Scouts inform the much-more-numerous non-scouts that it is time to fly to a chosen new site?
How does the collective of Scouts guide the hive to a chosen site?
At a new hive-site, how do the scouts indicate the entrance-hole?
How does the hive, moving at about 6 mph towards a new site detect if the queen is not with them? How do they know their way back to where she had been?
Can a scout "know" the relative popularity of the various, proposed new sites? Other than by "head-butting."

A hive whose queen has left in a swarm will respond to an alien queen that enters the nest by attacking her or not not attacking her according as the hive has or does not have a queen cell (producing a new queen). How could this discriminating behavior have evolved. It suggests that just-mated queens sometimes enter a wrong nest.
To increase the chance of a queen that is off a-mating will find her way home, perhaps workers hover about the hive-site until she returns. She sees the bees then she finds the entrance.

Some Behavioral States of a Hive:
Day of gathering.
Night between days of gathering.
Rainy day, night.
Winter day, night.
Defensive swarming.
Swarming to find a new next-site.
Absconding.

Bees remember locations and qualities of places, directions, times.

Do neighboring hives coordinate the launch of their virgin queens or their drones for mating?