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Bees at work (VII): How Bees´ colonies make decisions.

Sunday morning. A beautiful windy morning in town. In our last post, we promised to explain how bees´ colonies make decisions. So here we are trying to develop this topic in the middle of a weird reaction that my organism has had after the COVID19 booster. As you already know, I took the decision last year to clutch to the Sinovac brand vaccines, because I was cautious enough “at that time” to wait and see what was going to happen with the mRNA effects. I observed here and there, got information from here and there for more than 7 months, and I thought it was the time to get the booster. I did my research very well, and I went for the Pfizer BioNTech last Monday. Contrary to all forecasts, the Pfizer side effects hit me and took me like a storm. I am still not well, but at least the fever has disappeared. I have suffered for three non-interrupted continuous days (and its respective nights) of fever, headache, muscular/conjoint pain, and diarrhea. Trust me, it has been a nightmare. I was not able to sit for more than 10 minutes because I was interrupted by a mandatory excursion to the bathroom. Awful. Right now, the emergency is still outstanding, with some improvement.  The fever has finally disappeared, and at least I expect to have a window of luck so my digestive system can remain calm, in order to finish and deliver my publication for the next few hours. So sorry about this mishap, I never thought my metabolism was going to react this way with the side effects of a vaccine, but it happened.

Let´s understand the waggle dancing with our bee’s journey. 

Waggle, Wiggle, Joggle. That is what bees do to communicate when they find treasures. Gems of a new home, or a jewel of a pristine countryside full of flowers. To waggle means to move from side to side with short shaking quick motions.  So, when we realize that the bees make decisions by doing waggle dancing, that is hilarious, isn´t it? It is so charming and trés joli. “¡Qué cosa más bonita!”. How many of us dance or move our hips and jump from here and there when we get good news? Well, that is what bees do!!!

The bees perform waggle dancing not just of delight and satisfaction but with a compass meaning. In the case of the nest-scout bees, they can indicate the direction of the new potential nest encoding (1) the position, with the angle of her waggle run with respect to the sun; (2) the distance in the duration of the straight waggle run; and (3) the quality in the speed with which she repeats the waggle run.  Can you believe it? It is amazing. To understand these terms visit the presentation below.

Waggle Dance of the bees

How is the waggle dance? For example, dancer bees dance to eye-catch their mates. Let’s find out how bees dance. When the forager bee finds a lovely nectar source in the countryside, she returns to advertise that source to her co-workers. When the nest scout bee finds a potential site for a new hive, she returns to advertise it to her nest-scout co-workers who are also looking for other sites simultaneously. 

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According to Seeley (1), the bee starts to dance following the circuit of the brain figure, she does a waggle dance and then turns left or right moving up to the same position in which started the waggle run. So a dance circuit has two runs: the waggle run (in which the bee waggles), and the return run (alternating the movement to left or right).  By adjusting the number of dance circuits that she produces in relation to the nectar source richness or the potential hive, the bee is transferring information about the quality of the site discovered.

When bees do higher circuits per second and longer-lasting circuits, that is when the whole dancing circuit gets superior. That is the signal in which the bees begin to find supporters, for settling in one option, by agreeing on the location of the next hive.  When the bee expert Seeley followed Lindauer and Frisch’s previous findings, he confirmed that nest-site scout dancer bees announced an inferior nesting place with a “faint-hearted dance” while those with a superior nesting place were twirled “with a lively and long-lasting dance.”

Main features of the scout bees-decision-making process.

  1. Exploring and gathering information. The bees´ debates on which option is the best for living, tend to start slowly with an information accumulation phase. This is the stage in which scout bees search. And they do it in different directions. They find a sizable number of scattered alternatives for living. These options could be from 9 to 15 locations for example. They can travel for countryside extensions of 70 km2 for possible dwelling places.
  2. Reporting and presenting the potential sites to all the nest-scout hunters: After 1 or 2 days, most of the candidate sites are introduced to the nest-scout community of hunters. A swarm doesn´t manage to identify all its alternative options simultaneously, but they come one by one and each nest-scout discoverer reports of the quality of it with a dance circuit of waggle dance. Each found site is advertised by the nest-scout by doing its own dancing. The dancing is the competing process for advertising, in which the bees are looking for a pool of supporters. The liveliest sparkling dances indicate a nest-site of the first lavish quality. The second-rate homes are danced with a less energetic waggling.
  3. Confirming and comparing the veracity of the sites: Nest-scout supporters do a reality check. They go to where each of the sites is located, to check if the advertisement of the waggle dance is correct and appropriate, and then they compare with the other sites. This recruiting action of another to go to find and inspect it encourages validation using transparency. If the site is accepted as a good one, then this second nest-scout bee will support this site, by joining the crowd of the nest-scout who discovered. If not, then she will continue searching until she finds the one that she feels is the best one and will support this bee.
  4. Debating about the best alternative and building consensus: After several days, once the whole picture is clear, the one discoverer that gets more support, after several evaluations gets the whole endorsement from the nest-scout community. After an estimate of its absolute quality, based on an innate scale of the nest site goodness, and after comparing with the other possible options, the unitary democracy reigns because the endorsement is total for the best site (with the most vigorous dynamic dancing). The best site grows and grows in supporters throughout a debate. This is the site that produces the greatest number of dance circuits per bee. See slide number 7 and 8
  5. Moving to the new dwelling. Once the site has been chosen, the bees go ahead with the operation of moving into the new home.

We will explore the inference lessons of the bees´ decision-making in topic number 9. Honeybees’ democracy.

For reasons beyond my control (I am still convalescent and dealing with these dreadful side effects), I have done a tremendous effort to write today. And I will stop here. I won´t share the strategic reflection music section.  I ask you to pray to God and Jesus for my prompt recovery, please. See you next Tuesday and I wish you a beautiful rest of the weekend. Thank you for reading to me.

See you next Tuesday.

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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