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Bees at work (VI): Bees Swarm Intelligence.

Have a beautiful last Tuesday of January 2022. Let´s begin with a tiny reflection about the power of reading. It has been a great weekend for me, not because I did not paint (that is why you won´t see a watercolor today); but because I fully dedicated my weekend hours to reading a book that was published in 2010, “The Honeybees Democracy”. I have been reading with extreme detail all the foundations of swarm intelligence, from the source of the one that initiated the understanding of this concept with so much perseverance and keenness, to a point that took him more than 30 years of studies, a lifetime dedicated with so much devotion to comprehend one of the insects´ species which are extremely sensorial and smart enough to make consensus decisions using a unique process that is tied to their physiological exceptional being.

The power of reading is massive. Image from Mathilda, R. Dahl book. Not used for commercial purposes, only educational.

Thomas Seeley, the bee professor from Cornell University is an example of how to do profound DBR (Design-Based Research). He has written several books about how he applies DBR methodology in his quest for bees, and these huge books have captured my attention for the development of this saga. The principal keynotes and inferences that I have taken from the reading (look at the bibliography below) are what I wish to compose as an added value to the slides, in the most simple language that we can.

The power of reading books on paper. I have prepared a set of 10 slides that summarize all our material for today. I am going to share them with you. On top, as I mentioned above, I will explain some key points that are relevant and complementary to the slides. We suggest you read Seeley´s book, regardless if you are or are not interested in bees; but because it is revealing to watch how scientific discovery is made. In addition, only by reading (not watching the movie or the short 4 minutes film dangled on YouTube), we are able to fully understand the author. Words on the paper matter, our brains are forced to comprehend beyond what you can perceive. When we oblige our brains to read sheets of paper, that type of knowledge in our mind lasts at least much more than audio or video. Sometimes it lasts forever. Be sure that in our next publication we will proceed to explain how bees’ colonies make decisions. So today´s lesson is extremely important for next Friday´s post. When learning we always escalate from the precedent episode, so if you can print, go through and read with careful attention all the slides, even before continuing reading this post, I will be extremely joyful.

Please click here to download the material of the last slides in PDF Format.

Passing on the baton in research. According to Professor Seeley’s substantial books, it was Martin Lindauer (1918-2008), a German pioneer of behavioral biology, who triggered the enormous curiosity into Seeley´s research after he finished his studies with honors. Seeley took the line of research of Lindauer and continued its investigation. Although Lindauer was also pampered by another excellent bee scientist, the Austrian-German Nobel Prize researcher Karl Von Fritsch (1886-1982). Any good master that has brought a piece of knowledge to our universe always recognizes those who have taught the groundbreaking initial hard work and hit out the beam of ideas and elucidations on how to continue with their legacy. Also, I would like to clarify that there are other bees behavioral researchers and authors beyond Seeley that I have not embraced for this saga, but all of them are as valuable as Seeley. The collective outcome of all these bees researchers will be an interesting thing to see in the future. “A great scientific discovery is one that gives rise to shining insights whose light dispels obscurities, opens up new paths, and reveals unknown horizons”.

Bees evolve from the inside out. The observations of Seeley in relation to a bee colony as a single living entity, or a superorganism that requires energy for its survival are somehow revealing. Bees can perform all that they do, which is, by meaning a complex list of activities (as listed on slide number 6), because they are genetically able and open to learning from their workers´ sisters. Bees are clever and proficient in acquiring those skills quickly, not just to gather the food resources that allow them to fuel themselves with honey; but also to pass through the first formative stages of activities inside the hive that help them to understand why foraging will be crucial later on. Younger workers always concentrate on the jobs occurring in the central brood nest, such as cleaning cells, feeding brood, tending the queen, resting, etc. Once the bees arrive at 15 days of life, then and only then they can go out of the hive, little by little. So when middle-age bees work, they do it in the periphery of the combs, receiving and storing nectar, packing pollen, some foraging near the hive, and ventilating the hive. Only old workers, the most experienced ones, dedicate almost all the latest days of their life as foragers (food collection).

Bees are energy.   The flower power that older worker bees gather in nectar, pollen, and other ingredients, is the input required to accomplish the colony metabolism, the colony circulation, the colony breathing, the colony regulation of temperature for its equilibrium according to the climate season, and the colony reproduction. Bees couldn´t make anything of what they do if they were not fueled themselves with honey. Do you know that according to Seeley, the collected nectar from flowers has a 40% of concentrated sugar solution? After the bee works with their mouth and different organs to convert the nectar and pollen into honey, bees regurgitate that golden final product of liquid in a honey storage cell. Fully ripened honey which has an 80% of sugar solution is pure fuel for energy. Then, honey is sealed in the hexagonal cell with a fine delicate cap of beeswax to reduce moisture absorption, and that liquid is pristine energy for the bees!

The flower power is the origin of the energy produced and consumed by the bees. Older worker bees spend most of their lives being foragers and bringing resources to the workers´ food-storers before they die. So, if we assume that a worker bee will last 7 weeks in the summer, or a bit more if it is born in winter (up to 4 to 6 months); foraging is the most complex activity they do throughout their lifetime because it is done outside the hive (where the danger arises). On average, for an annual cycle of life, a typical colony with these well-educated foragers extract from the flowers around 20 kg of pollen, 120 kg of nectar, 25 liters of water, and perhaps 100 grams of resin. All these food resources are crucial for the survival of the colony. A colony needs a large store of energy-rich supplies of food because, during the winter, they need to have reserves of food to keep the temperatures right. The bees produce intense heat inside the hives, and this is energetically coming from the honey, which makes it a costly and valuable fuel for them.

The availability of food resources is not static. The availability of food varies. It depends very much on the climate and the type of flowers-diversity. If something external affects the flowers, then the bees are affected directly. The pattern of honey weight changes over time in a colony. Mainly if the bees collect enough during the warm days, and the location for food collection is adorably ample, then there will be a surplus of fresh nectar, and the hive gains weight. If there is no possibility to go out of the hive (because of winter days), or there are no flowers, then the bees consume the stored honey, causing the hive to lose its weight.

What triggers swarming? Swarming is part of the life of the bees. Queen bees understand that their role as egg producers in the first parental nest is temporary, for an annual cycle of the bees living. Queen bees accept as a rule of thumb that there is going to be a moment of time (at the beginning of summer), in which they will have to go.  The procreation of her successors is normal (the next cohort of virgin queens, from which just one will continue with the legacy of the hive). “When a honeybee colony outgrows its home, becomes too congested, or too populated for the queen´s pheromones to control the entire workforce, then that is censored by the workers as a signal that is time to swarm”.  Swarming is triggered for successful reproduction, to avoid congestion of the parental first hive, open up opportunities for the next queens, with the acceptance that swarming is natural for the well-being of the bee’s growth and expansion, ultimately their own survival.

The role of nest site scouts´ bees. Colony reproduction starts up shortly after winter fades, so bees know they have a lot to accomplish during the summer. The bees must start a new colony, they must locate a new suitable nesting cavity, occupy it, clean it, build a set of beeswax combs, reproduce with the aid of the queen bee and drones, raise new workers, and store sufficient provisions for the next annual cycle of living. Before swarming occurs as an explosive departure, there is a lot of preparation. And here, in this context, is where the nest site scouts appear.  The nest site scouts are usually the highest rank of worker individuals in the colony. These are bees with foraging experience, these are the house hunters that will determine where, when, how, and why to leave. The nest-site scouts are solid discoverers, probably with an inherited genetic mix, but with tons of experience from their foraging stages. The nest-site scouts perform the waggle dancing to structure the choice, the decision-making for the new colony.

Waggle dance of the bees

The waggle dancing made by the nest-site scouts’ bees is more than communication when swarming. In our next post, we will continue to expand into waggle dances, because that is how bees’ colonies make decisions on hive-state preferences.

Strategic Music Hints Section:

Why did we choose “Dynamite” by BTS? We picked an emerging group that took my attention because it happens that I have some nieces and nephews who listen to these artists. Of course, an emerging artist is starting its way up and it has a lot of work to do in the future. For a minute, consider overlapping the three interpretations: the BTS, the Korean Japanese instrumental background, and the Rise Up Children´s Choir. The three altogether in one. The three together coincide in the same tempos and well interrelating, coming together as one unique song.   That is sharing, that is aiding, that is opening up the sense of hearing to keep our traditional choirs and orchestras too. That is dynamite!

Churches of any Christo-centric denomination usually hold choirs of fellows, including kids, all coming particularly from poor or middle-class struggling parents. These excellent unnoticed individuals can gain some cash inflow by being considered by famous artists for the record of their masterpieces. The same happens with real-instruments composers and musicians. During the last two years, musicians, and work-in-progress artists of several types of instruments are battling to resist and make a living. Many parents do not have a job too. In the middle of such despair, even if someone has not dedicated a lifetime to singing or playing, probably if they are excellent and have practiced it enough, these people can still play and sing with a high standard of quality. When artists of divergent backgrounds begin to sing and play together, we all are building love and solidarity. We all become helpers. In addition, when famous artists perform the role model of solidarity, by creating and including choirs and members of orchestras or bands, they are also helping the youngsters to appreciate the beauty of well-elaborated music. The Smartphone addiction and lack of interest to play or sing by the new generations is true, we are not inventing it.

Pure love in action. In summary, Musicians or Singers with better opportunities can help those excellent artists that are probably singing at a choir church or are playing an instrument (a sax or a bass or a cello or a trumpet or a piano or a flute or maracas or drums, etc) in a forgotten orchestra. They can help excellent artists from deprived neighborhood schools, professors of art with underprivileged income, or any other who could be extremely talented in music. Particularly when these people are in urgent need to survive during this pandemic hardship. When Jesus told us to show love to others as ourselves, just to consider and include other musicians and singers, showing a joyous complex composition of hundred of voices and orchestra backgrounds is more than solidarity, is pure love in action.

Today´s song: “Ode to Joy”. In a flash-mob set-up. Beethoven’s classical approach converted into the most famous song of all time, in flashmob style and in different languages.

I have chosen three compositions: The first one, sponsored by Evenord Bank Nuremberg, performed by the “Hans-Sachs” Choir and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Nuremberg at the Lorenzkirche in Nuremberg (2014). The second one was sponsored by Banc Sabadell from Spain, performed by the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, the Choir Lieder Camera, the Choir Amics de l’Òpera, and the Coral Belles Arts Choir (2012). And the third one sponsored by the European Union in Perú, performed by the Coro Nacional de Niños del Perú and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Perú (2018). Enjoy!

Thank you for reading to me, our next episode will continue with our episode about how bees colonies make decisions. Blessings!

Sources of reference used for this publication


Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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