Honeybee Scouts Review New Nesting Sites the way Yelp Reviews Restaurants

These bees look a like people at lunch time trying decide where to go. “Let’s check out the new artisan taco truck for lunch.” “No, Elise said it was okay, but not amazing.” “Pablo, he said that Korean barbecue fusion burrito is killer. Let’s go there.”

These bees look a like people at lunch time trying decide where to go. “Let’s check out the new artisan taco truck for lunch.” “No, Elise said it was okay, but not amazing.” “Pablo, he said that Korean barbecue fusion burrito is killer. Let’s go there.”

How bees decide on a new nest site, is like collecting Yelp reviews for the best spot for lunch. In fact, Thomas Seeley studies this decision-making process in order to understand how the knowledge and brainpower of groups (classrooms, cities, nations) can be marshaled to produce good collective choices.

Here’s how Professor Thomas Seeley describes the swarm decision-making system in “Honeybee Democracy” (All Yelp restaurant review comparisons are mine):

// 1. The bigger the crowd, the better the info: Actually he says, “The sensory apparatus of a swarm is a sizable population of bees.” So the more bees, the more accurate the info. Similar to lots of Yelp online reviews = more accurate ratings of a location.

// 2. Scouts collect info over time: Gathering info over time ensures the location that looked good on Monday, isn't a dump that serves wilted salad on Thursday. We’re talking about bee nesting sites, right? Or restaurants, same thing.

// 3. Each scout makes an independent evaluation of a site. She’s told about the site, but she makes an independent trip and decides without any other bee's influence whether she likes it or not. She's completely honest and not “compelled to report favorably.” 1 star or 5 stars?

// 4. Scouts reporting on a site recruit additional scouts to the site. “Recruitment by scouts creates positive feedback in the number of scouts reporting on a site as recruited bees become recruiters.”  So it's similar to a restaurant that gets 5 star reviews and comments like “AMAZING! omg the injera bread is SO authentic!!!!! 😍😍😍” more people will come and check out the site and review it, producing more information for the group.

// 5. Scouts reduce their dance responses over time. Scouts do a "waggle dance" that tell other bees the quality of the new location. Basically, if they don’t like a site, less bees visit it, and it drops off the radar.  Only the best sites keep getting visited and reported on.

// 6. Scouts may adaptively choose between exploring versus exploiting. If a bunch of scouts return with the same enthusiastic 5-star reviews for a new location, some scouts may eventually start looking for a previously unexplored site. Likewise, if your favorite restaurant is always crowded, you’ll look for another spot and see if it’s worth it to explore a new place, or gain confirmation that an old favorite is still worth visiting. Or as Yogi Berra says, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

There you go! How bees decide on the life or death decision to move to a swarm site, is similar to how we decide on a restaurant based on reviews. Honeybees are full of lessons for humans.

To learn more, check out Professor Thomas Seeley's video on Honeybee Decision Making

Aislin GibsonComment