Beekeeper Notes

American Foulbrood | American Foulbrood | An Interesting Post by Garth to BeesSA regarding AFB | An Interesting approach to deal with AFB (BeesWax) | Battle | Beekeeper | Beekeeper Classifieds | Drones | Eucalyptus | Experience | Extractor | Flight | Flowers loosing their scent? | Garth comments further on AFB, clarifying the production of more drones by resistance AFB colonies | Genome | Health | Helping Beekeepers Beat American Foulbrood | Honey | Honey Bee Forage Distance | Honey Hibernation Diet | Intelligence | Joke | Loss | Myth | Paranoid Fantasy | Poetry | SA Beekeepers Map | Smell | Smoke | Spring 2008 in SA | The spread and control of American foulbrood | Toxic | Vanishing | What is hot wax dipping? | Submit an Article

Collective voting

We humans like to think we are far smarter than bees. We've developed calculus and written language. Human brains weigh about a million times more than a bee brain.

So why can't we make collective decisions as well as tiny buzzing flower-suckers??

Several reasons:

Scientists analysing video footage have shown that Range Voting has been used in hundreds of trillions of elections held by social insects to select nest locations.

The bees' decision-making process can be interpreted almost exactly as 'range voting with intentional blanks,' implemented with a rather clever algorithm.

The evidence from entomological observations and computer simulations is that honeybee elections select the objectively best candidate 3 times more often than human elections would.

That's mainly because of the flaws in the 'plurality voting system' currently most prevalent among humans.

The method the bees use:

1. Most of the bees in the swarm find a branch to hang from in an energy-conserving 'beard' formation, then sit there.

2. About 5% or fewer of the bees go scouting. If they find one or more candidate nest sites, they return to the swarm and report via dancing:

(a) where the best one they found is, and
(b) how good they think it is.

Better sites get more repetitions of the dance, executed with more vigor.

3. Some bees who wish to be scouts observe these reports and fly out to check the alleged sites for themselves.

Also, some bees who already have been scouts can choose to re-explore their own sites or the sites advertised by others. In all cases they report back as before, but bees re-exploring their old favorites, then re-advertise them with successively fewer dance repetitions each time, and once they reach zero, they 'reset' themselves to an unbiased state.

4. So after some time has elapsed, multiple 'camps' of bee scouts emerge, each camp advertising different potential nest sites.

5. The bees use an ingenious process which effectively allows them to reach a consensus on the site with highest-average-vote but which avoids any need for them to do arithmetic and is highly robust to occasional mentally-defective bees!!

The process works something like compound interest in finance: the bank account with the highest compound interest rate grows faster.

The bee-scouts for the best nesting site dance longer and more vigorously for it. The chance a new scout is going to check out a site, is N times bigger if there is N times more dancing for it going on.

6. The bees' process for determining the highest average score is not completely perfect for several reasons.

First, although eventually the highest compound interest rate wins, the bees cannot wait forever. The swarm is willing to sit around for at most about 2 weeks. A late-discovered but better site might not have enough time for its higher growth rate to win versus some older discovery of a worse (but still pretty good) nest site.

Second, if two sites very close in quality are discovered at about the same time, then their growth rates might balance exactly enough to prevent consensus.

Third, there is a certain amount of 'random noise' involved.

7. The bees even have their own version of the CRV's notoriously kludgy 'safety' rule d.

The bees refuse to terminate an election until a 'quorum' of at least 10-15 scout bees have explored a site, because otherwise (we presume) the quality of each site-evaluation would be too low.



Is honey bee spatial intelligence a lot better than humans?

Rudolf Jander, Kansas University biology professor, poses a challenge: In a large forest, find a tree with a hole in it. Then walk away from the tree, about five miles. Now, turn around, go back and find the same tree.

That's probably impossible for a human, Jander said.

But it's a no-brainer for a honeybee.

'They have a fantastic ability to find their way around,' Jander said.

For the last four summers, Jander has advised Danny Najera, a doctoral student in entomology, as Najera has led research on the intelligence of honeybees.

With the help of other undergraduate and graduate students, Najera conducts experiments in the fields and trees of KU's West Campus to explore bees' abilities to find food and navigate.

'We're all out here all day, every day, trying to figure out how smart these bees are, Najera said. This is his final summer of bee research. He hopes to complete his doctoral work in the spring.

One of the intelligence experiments centers on the bees' ability to recognize patterns in order to help them find food.

On four tables placed to form a rectangle about 15 feet by 30 feet, the students put three jars of plain water and one jar of sugar water. Every 10 minutes, they move the sugar jar to another table in a figure-eight pattern, while the bees make trips between their hive and the jars to find food.

After about a week of observing this routine for eight hours a day, the bees begin to recognize the pattern. Once they find that the sugar jar is gone from a particular table, most of them know which table to check next even if it means going to the table that is farthest away. To track the bees' behavior, researchers mark certain bees with paint.

'What it boils down to is an incredible ability to forage,' Najera said. Bees' efficiency in finding and obtaining food means that humans can exploit their honey production at little cost, he said.

Other experiments examine the bees' abilities to find their way back to their hive, recognize and remember certain locations, and find a shortcut between two locations.

'Their spatial intelligence appears to be a lot better than humans',' Najera said.

Bees can venture up to about six miles from their hive and still find their way back, Jander said. To remember a location or a travel route, they use sight, smell and a sense of time.

'This is an interesting logical process that takes place in a tiny brain of 1 cubic millimeter,' Jander said.

That tiny brain contains about 1 million nerve cells, Najera said or about the same number humans have in the back of each eye. He said the intelligence that bees packed into such a small system helped biologists learn about the workings of brains and cognition in general.

For instance, bees' intelligence disproves any notion that the number of nerve cells in a brain system may be directly related to intelligence, he said.



Does the flower make the honeybee or the honeybee the flower?