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Democracy - honey bees

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Gray
54705.  Thu Feb 23, 2006 7:11 am Reply with quote

Question: Who rules the hive?
Forfeit: Why, you do Stephen; the queen bee.
Answer: No-one does.

Notes: The hives of honey bees contain several different types of bee - workers, drones, guards, and a single fertile queen who lays the eggs. But she doesn't tell anyone what to do. She has no duty other than eating and laying, in fact. Every other member of the hive is already 'programmed' to carry out its task without direction - so there is, in fact, no ruler. 'Queen' is used in the sense of 'pregnant female', as in cats, not in the sense of an all-powerful monarch.

Towards the end of summer, when the queen leaves the nest and the hive swarms after her, the workers search for a new place to locate the swarm. The old nest is left for the newly fertilized females to develop in.

The workers return to the swarm and tell the community of the good places they've found using the same kind of waggle dance was used to communicate the location of good nectar sources throughout the summer months. Although several different locations are suggested by the individuals, the bees all choose one of them by 'majority vote', and swarm away to it with the queen to settle down for the winter.

Bumble bees don't do this - there are far fewer of them in a nest (typically a few hundred, rather than thousands), and only the queen survives the winter with her store of sperm.

Possibly one for General Ignorance, this.

Source: Life In The Undergrowth, by David Attenborough (BBC Books, 2004)

 
Gray
54726.  Thu Feb 23, 2006 7:34 am Reply with quote

The earliest misunderstanding of the queen's role in the swarm comes from Xenophon (c. 430 - 355 BCE):
Quote:
Thus he spoke. And the first one to reply was the man who had once upon a time claimed to be a kinsman of Cyrus. "For my part, O my king," said he--"for to me you seem to be a born king no less than is the sovereign of the bees in a hive. For as the bees always willingly obey the queen-bee and not one of them deserts the place where she stays; and as not one fails to follow her if she goes anywhere else--so marvellous a yearning to be ruled by her is innate to them;

so also do men seem to me to be drawn by something like the same sort of instinct toward you. And of that we have proof; for when you started to return from our country to Persia, what man of the Medes either young or old failed to follow you, until Astyages made us turn back?

Life of Cyrus The Great, Book 5, Chapter 1, verses 24,25.

This is a nice coincidence because after Socrates had died, Xenophon took on his nickname 'The Attic Bee', because of 'the sweetness of his productions'.

 
Flash
54772.  Thu Feb 23, 2006 8:21 am Reply with quote

Yes, nice question. The answer is 'no-one', but perhaps that's justifiable in this case because that's the point.

 

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