science

Some honey bees choose to spend more time with other members of the colony


Don’t bee antisocial: Some honey bees choose to spend time with other members of the colony while others prefer to buzz off on their own – just like humans

  • Researchers used imaging techniques to monitor bees with barcodes on them
  • They found that some bees are more likely to interact than others in the hive
  • This is similar to patterns found within human communities, the team found 

Honeybees share something in common with humans – the amount of time they spend in each others company varies by individual, a new study revealed.

Researchers from the University of Illinois used image capture and computer analysis techniques to measure interactions between thousands of honeybees.

They found that there was a clear difference in the amount of time each bee would spend interacting with other bees during food transfer or other events. 

The differences in time each honeybee spent with others of their species turned out to be remarkably similar to differences found in studies of human behaviour.

Despite finding each bee was slightly different and distinct from one another – despite living in a hive – they were not as different to one another as humans. 

Researchers from the University of Illinois used image capture and computer analysis techniques to measure interactions between thousands of honeybees

Researchers from the University of Illinois used image capture and computer analysis techniques to measure interactions between thousands of honeybees

Lead author Nigel Goldenfeld and colleagues examined honey bees in a colony over their lifetimes – to assess how much time they individually spent together. 

Each bee was marked with a barcode to make it easier to track them and the way they interact with others surrounding them. 

The team found that while some bees would spend extended amounts of time with another individual, others would turn away or move on to someone else.

This was measured during food sharing or other face-to-face interactions and the team found that – on a smaller scale – the bees actions measured humans.

‘Using a measure of inequality from economics, we quantify these individual differences in both honeybees and humans,’ said Goldenfeld.

‘We show that bees have individual differences but exhibit less individuality than humans,’ he added, explaining this could be due to less genetic difference between each individual bee than between humans. 

‘This work demonstrates how individual variations can lead to universal patterns of behaviour across different species and specific mechanisms for social interactions.’ 

Goldenfeld says the duration of any interaction in a society – regardless of the species – is a fundamental measure of its collective nature.

These interactions and how long they each last can reflect variability in individual behaviour within the wider community, he explained.

It followed a ‘heavy-tailed distribution’ pattern – that is where a few bees spent a lot of time together and most bees spent very little time together.  

They found that this ‘cross-species universality’ – seen in humans and bees – began with individual variability between different bees as they interact on a social basis. 

The team found that while some bees would spend extended amounts of time with another individual, others would turn away or move on to someone else or avoid others completely

The team found that while some bees would spend extended amounts of time with another individual, others would turn away or move on to someone else or avoid others completely

Next, the authors studied the total interaction time spent by each individual, the total number of interactions in which each individual engaged, and the total number of partners with which each individual interacted. 

They found that genetically related bees had fewer individual differences than found within human families – but there was some individuality.

This individuality between bees including some being more likely to interact and engage in food sharing than others. 

According to the authors, individual differences can lead to universal patterns of behaviour that transcend species, context, and mechanisms for social interactions.  

The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

How do honeybees make a queen?

Queen bee brood cell is pictured above

Queen bee brood cell is pictured above

Honeybees make a queen by treating a normal youngster in a unique way, causing it to develop into a queen rather than a worker.

They start by building a special, larger cell, and filling it with a substance called ‘royal jelly’.

This is a combination of water, sugars and proteins that appears milky in colour, secreted from glands in the heads of worker bees.

A youngster is then plucked from its cell and placed into the unique cell with the royal jelly, which it consumes.

To aide its development, a study published in Science Advances in 2015 suggested, it is also denied pollen and honey to aide its development, which is fed to normal workers.





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