The Roles Of Drifting And Robbing In Varroa Destructor Mite Infested Colonies

Catch the Buzz By David Thomas Peck & Thomas Dyer Seeley June 21, 2019

Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

PLoS One. 2019 Jun 21;14(6):e0218392. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218392. eCollection 2019.

Varroa mites on honey be.jpg

When honey bee colonies collapse from high infestations of Varroa mites, neighboring colonies often experience surges in their mite populations. Collapsing colonies, often called “mite bombs”, seem to pass their mites to neighboring colonies. This can happen by mite-infested workers from the collapsing colonies drifting into the neighboring colonies, or by mite-free workers from the neighboring colonies robbing out the collapsing colonies, or both. To study inter-colony mite transmission, we positioned six nearly mite-free colonies of black-colored bees around a cluster of three mite-laden colonies of yellow-colored bees. We then monitored the movement of bees between the black-bee and yellow-bee colonies before, during, and after mite-induced collapse of the yellow-bee colonies. Throughout the experiment, we monitored each colony's mite level. We found that large numbers of mites spread to the black-bee colonies (in both nearby and distant hives) when the yellow-bee colonies collapsed from high mite infestations and became targets of robbing by the black-bee colonies. We conclude that “robber lures” is a better term than “mite bombs” for describing colonies that are succumbing to high mite loads and are exuding mites to neighboring colonies.

Read more:

Honeybees All Have Different Jobs

National Geographic By Richie Hertzberg March 22, 2019

How honeybees get their jobs—explained

With brains the size of sesame seeds, honeybees have to work together in different
capacities to maintain a healthy nest.

EVERY HONEYBEE HAS a job to do. Some are nurses who take care of the brood; some are janitors who clean the hive; others are foragers who gather nectar to make honey. Collectively, honeybees are able to achieve an incredible level of sophistication, especially considering their brains are only the size of sesame seeds. But how are these jobs divvied up, and where do bees learn the skills to execute them?

Unlike in Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie,” real honeybees don’t go to college and get a job assignment from an aptitude officer upon graduation. Instead, they rely on a mixture of genetics, hormones, and situational necessity to direct them. Honeybees are born into an occupation, and then their duties continually shift in response to changing conditions in the hive.

“The jargon we use is that it’s ‘decentralized.’ There’s no bee in the center organizing this,” says Thomas Seeley, author of the book Honeybee Democracy. “Each bee has its own little set of rules, and the labor is sorted out by the bees following their rules.”

Born this way

A bee’s job is determined by its sex. Male bees, or drones, don’t do any work. They make up roughly ten percent of the colony’s population, and they spend their whole lives eating honey and waiting for the opportunity to mate. When the time comes for the queen to make her nuptial flight, all the drones in other colonies will compete for the honor of insemination. They fly after the queen and attempt to mate with her in mid-air. If they mate successfully, they fall to the ground in a victorious death. The queen will mate with up to twenty drones and will store their spermatozoa in her spermatheca organ for the rest of her life. That’s where male duties end.

Female bees, known as worker bees, make up the vast majority of a hive’s population, and they do all the work to keep it functioning. Females are responsible for the construction, maintenance, and proliferation of the nest and the colony that calls it home.

A bee’s sex is determined by the queen, who lays eggs at a rate of 1,500 per day for two to five years. She has the unique ability to designate which eggs will develop into female workers and which will become male drones.

If the queen approaches a smaller worker bee cell to lay a female egg, she will fertilize the egg on its way out by releasing spermatozoa from her nuptial flight. She has enough spermatozoa stored in her abdomen to last the duration of her life.

If the queen approaches a larger drone cell to lay a male egg, on the other hand, she will not release any spermatozoa as the egg leaves her ovaries. This unfertilized egg will develop into a drone.

Domestic duties

It takes 21 days for the worker bee to grow out of her larval state and leave the cell. When she emerges on day 21 as an adult bee, she will immediately start cleaning the cell from which she hatched. Her first three days will be spent cleaning cells to prepare them for the queen’s next round of eggs.

After three days, her hormones kick in to initiate the next phase of work: nursing the young. Seeley explains that hormones are released to activate different parts of the bee’s genes assigned to different tasks. “It’s similar to when humans get sick,” he says. “Sick genes that are involved in inflammation and fever get turned on. Likewise with bees and their jobs.”

A worker bee will spend about a week nursing the brood, feeding larvae with royal jelly, a nutritious secretion that contains proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins. The exact number of days she spends on this task depends on where the hive needs the most attention. Bees are very sensitive organisms whose hormones are closely tied in with the colony’s needs. “A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals,” writes Seeley in Honeybee Democracy. “It is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole.” The colony is a well-oiled superorganism, similar to ant and termite colonies.

The most dangerous job

When the bee is finished nursing, she will enter the third phase, as a sort of utility worker, moving farther away from the nest’s center. Here she will build cells and store food in the edge of the nest for about a week.

A bee’s hormones will shift into the final phase of work at around her 41st day: foraging. This work is the most dangerous and arguably the most important. It’s only done by older bees who are closer to death. As Steve Heydon, an entomologist at the University of California, Davis, puts it, “You wouldn’t want the youngest bees doing the most dangerous job.” If too many young bees die, then the hive wouldn’t be able to sustain itself.

As the worker bee approaches her fourth week of nonstop work, she will sense her end of days and remove herself from the hive, so as not to become a burden. If she dies in the hive, her fellow bees would have to remove her corpse.

Thus is the life of a female bee during the active seasons of spring and summer, compulsively working from the day she’s born until the day she dies. It’s a thankless life of nonstop work, but honeybees, as a result, are some of the most successful collaborators we’ve found in nature.

[Editor's Note: This article originally misstated what bees use to make honey. They use nectar.]

Watch Related - Amazing Time-Lapse: Bees Hatch Before Your Eyes

Dr. Tom D. Seeley: Honeybees in the Wild

Dr. Tom Seeley Beekeeping Today Podcast.jpg
Dr. Tom D. Seeley.jpg

Dr. Tom D. Seeley is a Horace White Professor in Biology at Cornell University where he teaches courses on animal behavior, specializing in understanding the social life of honey bees. His scientific research focuses on the phenomenon of swarm intelligence, which is defined as the solving of cognitive problems by a group of individuals who pool their knowledge and process it through social interactions.

Tom joins Jeff and Kim in this episode to discuss bee hunting (aka: bee lining). He also delves deeper into the topic of his article in the January 2019 Bee Culture on Darwinian Beekeeping.

Tom is a author of several books related to honey bee biology and behavior, including:

The Wisdom of the Hive, 1996
Honeybee Democracy, 2010
Following The Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting, 2016
The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild, 2019

In the podcast, Tom references his video on the topic of Bee Hunting. You can find it On YouTube. ____________________

We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments:

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at

Thank you for listening!

Podcast music: Young Presidents, "Be Strong"

"Honey Bees Are Superb Beekeepers; They Know What They're Doing."

Bug Squad    By Kathy Keatley     March 5, 2018

The Honey Bee Credit: Kathy Keatley Garvey"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing."

So said bee scientist and author Tom Seeley of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., when he keynoted the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium, held March 3 in the UC Davis Conference Center.

"EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies," Seeley said in his talk on "Darwinian Beekeeping."

"And I mean everything."

 Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, where he teaches courses on animal behavior and researches the behavior and social life of honey bees, visually transported the symposium crowd to his research site, the 4200-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest owned by Cornell University.

Located about 15 miles from the campus, Arnot Forest is a place where the honey bees live in the wild, that is, they are not managed by beekeepers, Seeley pointed out. They build small nest cavities high in the trees, about 25 feet high, and space their colonies apart by at least 750 meters.  They build drone comb freely, amounting to 15 to 20 percent of the nest cavity. They live as they did millions of years ago.

It's survival by natural selection.

"We can learn from the wild colonies," Seeley said. "I go into the wild areas and track down where bees are living and follow the bees home. It takes me about two days to find a bee tree."

Does the Arnot Forest have Varroa mites, the worldwide parasitic, virus-transferring mite that's considered the No. 1 enemy of beekeepers? A pest that arrived in the New York area around 1994?

Yes, they do. All the colonies in the forest are infested with Varroa mites. And they survive.

Seeley's research shows that before 1978 (pre-Varroa mite), the forest contained 2.8 colonies per square mile. After 2002 (post-Varroa mite), the forest still contained 2.8 colonies per square mile.

Honey bees typify the Charles Darwinian concept of evolution by natural selection, Seeley said. Indeed, "all bees living today are the products of natural selection."

Darwin, who described comb building as "the most wonderful of all (insect) instincts" and Lorenzo L. Langstroth, who invented the movable-frame hive, "both had important insights that can help us with our beekeeping," Seeley related.

"Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully."

However, Darwinian beekeeping or "bee friendly beekeeping" is not for everyone, Seeley emphasized. "It's not for large-scale beekeepers, it's not for urban beekeepers. It is an option for small-scale rural beekeepers who want to avoid chemical treatments and who are satisfied with modest honey crops."

With Darwinian beekeeping, the emphasis is on the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness, "or the original environment in which wild colonies live," Seeley said. "Colonies are genetically adapted to their location."

How can beekeepers practice Darwinian beekeeping?

"Keep bees that are adapted to your location," he said. "Rear queens from your best survivor colonies, OR capture swarms with bait hives in remote locations OR purchase queens from a queen breeder who produces locally adapted queens."

"If the mite level gets high (more than 10 mites per 100 bees), then euthanize the colony; pour warm, soap water into hive at dusk," he said. "This does two things: it eliminates your non-resistant colonies and it avoids producing mite bombs. An alternative to euthanasia of the colony: treat for Varroa and requeen with a queen of resistant stock."

The issues of hive size and proximity are also important. Many modern beekeepers use "multi-storied wooden kits, super-sized like McDonald's," the professor said. "And managed bee hives are often a meter away from one another, as compared to 750 meters in the wild."

Seeley also said it's important "not to disturb colonies in winter: no checking, no stimulative feeding, no pollen patties, etc. Even a brief removal of the lid causes winter cluster to raise its temperature in alarm for several hours."

In his presentation, Seeley touched on nine Darwinian beekeeping tips, summarized here:

1. Keep bees that are adapted to your location 
2. House colonies in small hives and let them swarm 
3. Space colonies as widely as possible 
4. Line hives with propolis collection screens or untreated lumber to allow them to build a "propolis (antimicrobial) shield"  
5. Provide the most resilient (lowest mite count) colonies with 10 to 20 percent drone comb 
6. Keep the nest structure intact 
7. Use a small, bottom entrance
8. Do not disturb colonies in winter 
9. Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa

He lists 20 Darwinian beekeeping tips in his article published in the March 2017 edition of the American Bee Journal. (The article also appears on the Natural Beekeeping Trust website, printed with permission.)

Seely is the author of Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life(1985), The Wisdom of the Hive: the Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies (1995), and Honeybee Democracy (2010), all published by Princeton Press.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology sponsored the event, which drew a crowd of 250.  Amina Harris, director of the center, coordinated the event.

In introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Neal Williams of the entomology faculty and the faculty co-director of the Honey and Pollination Center board, described Seeley's work as "innovative and insightful. He is truly a gifted author who blends science and philosophy."

"Honey bees are superb beekeepers; they know what they're doing," keynote speaker Tom Seeley tells the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey“EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies,” Cornell bee scientist Tom Seeley pointed out. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)“Darwinian beekeeping is allowing the bees to use their own beekeeping skills fully,” keynote speaker Tom Seeley says. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)Professor Neal Williams (left) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, shares a laugh with keynote speaker Tom Seeley of Cornell. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Darwinian Beekeeping: An Evolutionary Approach to Apiculture

Darwinian Beekeeping:  An Evolutionary Approach to Apiculture
By:  Thomas D. Seeley, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853

The original of this article first appeared in the American Beekeeping Journal, March 2017. The images and text are reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

Above: Tom Seeley talking about Darwinian Beekeeping at Bee Audacious

Evolution by natural selection is a foundational concept for understanding the biology of honey bees, but it has rarely been used to provide insights into the craft of beekeeping.  This is unfortunate because solutions to the problems of beekeeping and bee health may come most rapidly if we are as attuned to the biologist Charles R. Darwin as we are to the Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth. 

Adopting an evolutionary perspective on beekeeping may lead to better understanding about the maladies of our bees, and ultimately improve our beekeeping and the pleasure we get from our bees.  An important first step toward developing a Darwinian perspective on beekeeping is to recognize that honey bees have a stunningly long evolutionary history, evident from the fossil record.  One of the most beautiful of all insect fossils is that of a worker honey bee, in the species Apis henshawi, discovered in 30-million-year-old shales from Germany (Fig. 1).  There also exist superb fossils of our modern honey bee species, Apis mellifera, in amber-like materials collected in East Africa that are about 1.6 million years old (Engel 1998). 

We know, therefore, that honey bee colonies have experienced millions of years being shaped by the relentless operation of natural selection.  Natural selection maximizes the abilities of living systems (such honey bee colonies) to pass on their genes to future generations.  Colonies differ genetically, therefore colonies differ in all the traits that have a genetic basis, including colony defensiveness, vigor in foraging, and resistance to diseases.  The colonies best endowed with genes favoring colony survival and reproduction in their locale have the highest success in passing their genes on to subsequent generations, so over time the colonies in a region become well adapted to their environment. 

This process of adaptation by natural selection produced the differences in worker bee color, morphology, and behavior that distinguish the 27 subspecies of Apis mellifera (e.g., A.m. mellifera, A. m. ligustica, and A. m. scutellata) that live within the species' original range of Europe, western Asia, and Africa (Ruttner 1988).  The colonies in each subspecies are precisely adapted to the climate, seasons, flora, predators, and diseases in their region of the world. 

Moreover, within the geographical range of each subspecies natural selection produced ecotypes, which are fine-tuned, locally adapted populations.  For example, one ecotype of the subspecies Apis mellifera mellifera evolved in the Landes region of southwest France, with its biology tightly linked to the massive bloom of heather (Calluna vulgaris L.) in August and September.  Colonies native to this region have a second strong peak of brood rearing in August that helps them exploit this heather bloom.  Experiments have shown that the curious annual brood cycle of colonies in the Landes region is an adaptive, genetically based trait (Louveaux 1973, Strange et al. 2007).

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) are a recent evolutionary innovation compared to honey bees.  We arose some 150,000 years ago in the African savannahs, where honey bees had already been living for aeons. The earliest humans were hunter gatherers who hunted honey bees for their honey, the most delicious of all natural foods.  We certainly see an appetite for honey in one hunter-gatherer people still in existence, the Hadza of northern Tanzania.  Hadza men spend 4-5 hours per day in bee hunting, and honey is their favorite food (Marlowe et al. 2014). 

Bee hunting began to be superseded by beekeeping some 10,000 years ago, when people in several cultures started farming and began domesticating plants and animals.  Two regions where this transformation in human history occurred are the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia and the Nile Delta.  In both places, ancient hive beekeeping has been documented by archaeologists.  Both are within the original distribution of Apis mellifera, and both have open habitats where swarms seeking a nest site probably had difficulty finding natural cavities and occupied the clay pots and grass baskets of the early farmers (Crane 1999). 

In Egypt's sun temple of King Ne-user-re at Abu Ghorab, there is a stone bas-relief ca. 4400 years old that shows a beekeeper kneeling by a stack of nine cylindrical clay hives (Fig. 2).  This is the earliest indication of hive beekeeping and it marks the start of our search for an optimal system of beekeeping.  It also marks the start of managed colonies living in circumstances that differ markedly from the environment in which they evolved and to which they were adapted.  Notice, for example, how the colonies in the hives depicted in the Egyptian bas-relief lived crowded together rather than spaced widely across the land.

Wild Colonies vs. Managed Colonies

Today there are considerable differences between the environment of evolutionary adaptation that shaped the biology of wild honey bee colonies and the current circumstances of managed honey bee colonies.  Wild and managed live under different conditions because we beekeepers, like all farmers, modify the environments in which our livestock live to boost their productivity.   Unfortunately, these changes in the living conditions of agricultural animals often make them more prone to pests and pathogens.  In Table 1, I list 20 ways in which the living conditions of honey bees differ between wild and managed colonies, and I am sure you can think of still more.

Difference 1:  Colonies are vs. are not genetically adapted to their locations.  Each of the subspecies of Apis mellifera was adapted to the climate and flora of its geographic range and each ecotype within a subspecies was adapted to a particular environment.  Shipping mated queens and moving colonies long distances for migratory beekeeping forces colonies to live where they may be poorly suited.  A recent, large-scale experiment conducted in Europe found that colonies with queens of local origin lived longer than colonies with queens of non-local origin (Büchler et al. 2014). 

Difference 2:  Colonies live widely spaced across the landscape vs. crowded in apiaries.  This difference makes beekeeping practical, but it also creates a fundamental change in the ecology of honey bees.  Crowded colonies experience greater competition for forage, greater risk of being robbed, and greater problems reproducing (e.g., swarms combining and queens entering wrong hives after mating).  Probably the most harmful consequence of crowding colonies, though, is boosting pathogen and parasite transmission between colonies (Seeley & Smith 2015).  This facilitation of disease transmission boosts the incidence of disease and it keeps alive the virulent strains of the bees' disease agents.

Difference 3:  Colonies live in relatively small nest cavities vs. in large hives.  This difference also profoundly changes the ecology of honey bees.  Colonies in large hives have the space to store huge honey crops but they also swarm less because they are not as space limited, which weakens natural selection for strong, healthy colonies since fewer colonies reproduce.  Colonies kept in large hives also suffer greater problems with brood parasites such as Varroa (Loftus et al. 2016).

Difference 4:   Colonies live with vs. without a nest envelope of antimicrobial plant resin.  Living without a propolis envelope increases the cost of colony defense against pathogens.  For example, worker in colonies without a propolis envelope invest more in costly immune system activity (i.e., synthesis of antimicrobial peptides) relative to workers in colonies with a propolis envelope (Borba et al. 2015).

Difference 5:  Colonies have thick vs. thin nest cavity walls.  This creates a difference in the energetic cost of colony thermoregulation, esp. in cold climates.  The rate of heat loss for a wild colony living in a typical tree cavity is 4-7 times lower than for a managed colony living in a standard wooden hive (Mitchell 2016).

Difference 6:  Colonies live with high and small vs. low and large entrances.  This difference renders managed colonies more vulnerable to robbing and predation (large entrances are harder to guard), and it may lower their winter survival (low entrances get blocked by snow, preventing cleansing flights).

Difference 7:  Colonies live with vs. without plentiful drone comb.  Inhibiting colonies from rearing drones boosts their honey production (Seeley 2002) and slows reproduction by Varroa (Martin 1998), but it also hampers natural selection for colony health by preventing the healthiest colonies from passing on their genes (via drones) the most successfully. 

Difference 8:   Colonies live with vs. without a stable nest organization.  Disruptions of nest organization for beekeeping may hinder colony functioning.  In nature, honey bee colonies organize their nests with a precise 3-D organization:  compact broodnest surrounded by pollen stores and honey stored above (Montovan et al. 2013).  Beekeeping practices that modify the nest organization, such as inserting empty combs to reduce congestion in the broodnest, hamper thermoregulation and may disrupt other aspects of colony functioning such as egg laying by the queen and pollen storage by foragers.

Difference 9:  Colonies experience infrequent vs. sometimes frequent relocations.   Whenever a colony is moved to a new location, as in migratory beekeeping, the foragers must relearn the landmarks around their hive and must discover new sources of nectar, pollen, and water.   One study found that colonies moved overnight to a new location had smaller weight gains in the week following the move relative to control colonies already living in the location (Moeller 1975).

Difference 10:  Colonies are rarely vs. frequently disturbed.  We do not know how frequently wild colonies experience disturbances (e.g., bear attacks), but it is probably rarer than for managed colonies whose nests are easily cracked open, smoked, and manipulated.  In one experiment, Taber (1963) compared the weight gains of colonies that were and were not inspected during a honey flow, and found that colonies that were inspected gained 20-30% less weight (depending on extent of disturbance) than control colonies on the day of the inspections.

Difference 11:  Colonies do not vs. do deal with novel diseases.  Historically, honey bee colonies dealt only with the parasites and pathogens with whom they had long been in an arms race.  Therefore, they had evolved means of surviving with their agents of disease.  We humans changed all this when we triggered the global spread of the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor from eastern Asia, small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) from sub-Saharan Africa, and chalkbrood fungus (Ascosphaera apis) and acarine mite (Acarapis woodi) from Europe.  The spread of Varroa alone has resulted in the deaths of millions of honey bee colonies (Martin 2012).

Difference 12:  Colonies have diverse vs. homogeneous food sources.  Some managed colonies are placed in agricultural ecosystems (e.g., huge almond orchards or vast fields of oilseed rape) where they experience low diversity pollen diets and poorer nutrition.  The effects of pollen diversity were studied by comparing nurse bees given diets with monofloral pollens or polyfloral pollens.  Bees fed the polyfloral pollen lived longer than those fed the monofloral pollens (Di Pasquale et al. 2013).

Difference 13:  Colonies have natural diets vs. sometimes being fed artificial diets. Some beekeepers feed their colonies protein supplements ("pollen substitutes") to stimulate colony growth before pollen is available, to fulfill pollination contracts and produce larger honey crops.  The best pollen supplements/substitutes do stimulate brood rearing, though not as well as real pollen  and may result in workers of poorer quality (Scofield and Mattila 2015). 

Difference 14:  Colonies are not vs. are exposed to novel toxins.  The most important new toxins of honey bees are insecticides and fungicides, substances for which the bees have not had time to evolve detoxification mechanisms.  Honey bees are now exposed to an ever increasing list of pesticides and fungicides that can synergise to cause harm to bees (Mullin et al. 2010).

Difference 15:  Colonies are not vs. are treated for diseases.  When we treat our colonies for diseases, we interfere with the host-parasite arms race between Apis mellifera and its pathogens and parasites.  Specifically, we weaken natural selection for disease resistance.  It is no surprise that most managed colonies in North America and Europe possess little resistance to Varroa mites, or that there are populations of wild colonies on both continents that have evolved strong resistance to these mites (Locke 2016).  Treating colonies with acaracides and antibiotics may also interfere with the microbiomes of a colony's bees (Engel et al. 2016).

Difference 16:  Colonies are not vs. are managed as sources of pollen and honey. Colonies managed for honey production are housed in large hives, so they are more productive.  However, they are also less apt to reproduce (swarm) so there is less scope for natural selection for healthy colonies.  Also, the vast quantity of brood in large-hive colonies renders them vulnerable to population explosions of Varroa mites and other disease agents that reproduce in brood (Loftus et al. 2016).

Difference 17:  Colonies do not vs. do suffer losses of beeswax.  Removing beeswax from a colony imposes a serious energetic burden.  The weight-to-weight efficiency of beeswax synthesis from sugar is at best about 0.10 (data of Weiss 1965, analyzed in Hepburn 1986), so every pound of wax taken from a colony costs it some 10 pounds of honey that is not available for other purposes, such as winter survival.  The most energetically burdensome way of harvesting honey is removal of entire combs filled with honey (e.g., cut comb honey and crushed comb honey).  It is less burdensome to produce extracted honey since this removes just the cappings wax.

Difference 18:  Colonies are vs. are not choosing the larvae used for rearing queens.  When we graft day-old larvae into artificial queen cups during queen rearing, we prevent the bees from choosing which larvae will develop into queens.  One study found that in emergency queen rearing the bees do not choose larvae at random and instead favor those of certain patrilines (Moritz et al. 2005).

Difference 19:  Drones are vs. are not allowed to compete fiercely for mating.  In bee breeding programs that use artificial insemination, the drones that provide sperm do not have to prove their vigor by competing amongst other drones for mating.  This weakens the sexual selection for drones that possess genes for health and strength. 

Difference 20:   Drone brood is not vs. is removed from colonies for mite control.  The practice of removing drone brood from colonies to control Varroa destructor partially castrates colonies and so interferes with natural selection for colonies that are healthy enough to invest heavily in drone production.

Suggestions for Darwinian Beekeeping

Beekeeping looks different from an evolutionary perspective.  We see that colonies of honey bees lived independently from humans for millions of years, and during this time they were shaped by natural selection to be skilled at surviving and reproducing wherever they lived, in Europe, western Asia, or Africa.  We also see that ever since humans started keeping bees in hives, we have been disrupting the exquisite fit that once existed between honey bee colonies and their environments.  We've done this in two ways:  1) by moving colonies to geographical locations to which they are not well adapted, and 2) by managing colonies in ways that interfere with their lives but that provide us with honey, beeswax, propolis, pollen, royal jelly, and pollination services.

What can we do, as beekeepers, to help honey bee colonies live with a better fit to their environment, and thereby live with less stress and better health?   The answer to this question depends greatly on how many colonies you manage, and what you want from your bees.  A beekeeper who has a few colonies and low expectations for honey crops, for example, is in a vastly different situation than a beekeeper who has thousands of colonies and is earning a living through beekeeping. 

For those interested, I offer 10 suggestions for bee-friendly beekeeping.  Some have general application while others are feasible only for the backyard beekeeper.

1.  Work with bees that are adapted to your location.  For example, if you live in New England, buy queens and nucs produced up north rather than queens and packages shipped up from the south.  Or, if you live in a location where there are few beekeepers, use bait hives to capture swarms from the wild colonies living in your area.  (Incidentally, these swarms will build you beautiful new combs, and this will enable you to retire old combs that could have heavy loads of pesticide residues and pathogen spores/cells.)  The key thing is to acquire queens of a stock that is adapted to your climate. 

2.   Space your hives as widely as possible.   Where I live, in central New York State, there are vast forests filled with wild honey bee colonies spaced roughly a half mile apart.   This is perhaps ideal for wild colonies but problematic for the beekeeper.   Still, spacing colonies just 30-50 yards apart in an apiary greatly reduces drifting and thus the spread of disease.

3.  House your bees in small hives.   Consider using just one deep hive body for a broodnest and one medium-depth super over a queen excluder for honey.  You won't harvest as much honey, but you will likely have reduced disease and pest problems, particularly Varroa.  And yes, your colonies will swarm, but swarming is natural and research shows that it promotes colony health by helping keep Varroa mite populations at safe levels (see Loftus et al 2016).

4.  Roughen the inner walls of your hives, or build them of rough-sawn lumber.  This will stimulate your colonies to coat the interior surfaces of their hives with propolis, thereby creating antimicrobial envelopes around their nests.

5.  Use hives whose walls provide good insulation.   These might be hives built of thick lumber, or they might be hives made of plastic foam.  We urgently need research on how much insulation is best for colonies in different climates, and how it is best provided.

6.  Position hives high off the ground.  This is not always doable, but if you have a porch or deck where you can position some hives, then perhaps it is feasible.   We urgently need research on how much entrance height is best in different climates.

7.  Let 10-20% of the comb in your hives be drone comb.  Giving your colonies the opportunity to rear drones can help improve the genetics in your area.  Drones are costly, so it is only the strongest and healthiest colonies that can afford to produce legions of drones.  Unfortunately, drone brood also fosters rapid growth of a colony's population of Varroa mites, so providing plentiful drone comb requires careful monitoring of the Varroa levels in your hives (see suggestion 10, below).

8.  Minimize disturbances of nest organization.  When working a colony, replace each frame in its original position and orientation.  Also, avoid inserting empty frames in the broodnest to inhibit swarming.

9.  Minimize relocations of hives.  Move colonies as rarely as possible.  If you must do so, then do so when there is little forage available.

10.  Refrain from treating colonies for Varroa.  WARNING:  This last suggestion should only be adopted if you can do so carefully, as part of a program of extremely diligent beekeeping.  If you pursue treatment-free beekeeping without close attention to your colonies, then you will create a situation in your apiary in which natural selection is favoring virulent Varroa mites, not Varroa-resistant bees.  To help natural selection favor Varroa-resistant bees, you will need to monitor closely the mite levels in all your colonies and euthanize those whose mite populations are skyrocketing long before these colonies collapse. By preemptively killing your Varroa-susceptible colonies, you will accomplish two important things:  1) you will eliminate your colonies that lack Varroa resistance and 2) you will prevent the "mite bomb" phenomenon of mites spreading en masse to other colonies.  If you don't perform these preemptive killings, then even your most resistant colonies, living near the collapsing one(s) could become overrun with mites and die.  If this happens, then there will be no natural selection for mite resistance in your apiary.  Failure to perform preemptive killings can also spread virulent mites to your neighbors' colonies and even to the wild colonies in your area that are slowly evolving resistance on their own.   If you are not willing to euthanize your mite-susceptible colonies, then you will need to treat them to kill the mites and then requeen them with a queen of mite-resistant stock.

Two Hopes

I hope you have found it useful to think about beekeeping from an evolutionary perspective.  If you are interested in pursuing beekeeping in a way that is centered less on treating a bee colony as a honey factory, and more on nurturing the lives of honey bees, then I encourage you to consider what I call Darwinian Beekeeping.  Others call it Natural Beekeeping, Apicentric Beekeeping, and Bee-friendly Beekeeping (Phipps 2016).  Whatever the name, its practitioners view a honey bee colony as a complex bundle of adaptations shaped by natural selection to maximize a colony's survival and reproduction in competition with other colonies and other organisms (predators, parasites, and pathogens).  It seeks to foster colony health by letting the bees live as naturally as possible, so they can make full use of the toolkit of adaptations that they have acquired over the last 30 million years.  Much remains to be learned about this toolkit—How exactly do colonies benefit from better nest insulation?  Do colonies tightly seal their nests with propolis in autumn to have an in-hive water supply (condensate) over winter?  How exactly do colonies benefit from having a high nest entrance?  The methods of Darwinian Beekeeping are still being developed, but fortunately, apicultural research is starting to embrace a Darwinian perspective (Neumann and Blacquiere 2016.

I hope too that you will consider giving Darwinian Beekeeping a try, for you might find it more enjoyable than conventional beekeeping, especially if you are a small-scale beekeeper.  Everything is done with bee-friendly intentions and in ways that harmonize with the natural history of Apis mellifera.  As someone who has devoted his scientific career to investigating the marvelous inner workings of honey bee colonies, it saddens me to see how profoundly—and ever increasingly—conventional beekeeping disrupts and endangers the lives of colonies.  Darwinian Beekeeping, which integrates respecting the bees and using them for practical purposes, seems to me like a good way to be responsible keepers of these small creatures, our greatest friends among the insects.

Acknowledgements (From Thomas D. Seeley)

I thank Mark Winston and David Peck for many valuable suggestions that improved early drafts of this article.  Attending the Bee Audacious Conference in December 2016 is what inspired my thinking on Darwinian Beekeeping, so I also thank Bonnie Morse and everyone else who made this remarkable conference a reality.


Borba, R.S., K.K. Klyczek, K.L. Mogen and M. Spivak. 2015. Seasonal benefits of a natural           propolis envelope to honey bee immunity and colony health.  Journal of Experimental Biology 218: 3689-3699.

Büchler, R, C. Costa, F. Hatjina and 16 other authors. 2014. The influence of genetic origin and its interaction with environmental effects on the survival of Apis mellifera L. colonies in Europe.  Journal of Apicultural Research 53:205-214.

Crane, E. 1999.  The world history of beekeeping and honey hunting. Duckworth, London.

Di Pasquale, G., M. Salignon, Y. LeConte and 6 other authors. 2013. Influence of pollen nutrition on honey bee health: do pollen quality and diversity matter?  PLoS ONE 8(8): e72106.

Engel, M.S. 1998.  Fossil honey bees and evolution in the genus Apis (Hymenoptera: Apidae).           Apidologie 29:265-281.

Engel, P, W.K. Kwong, Q. McFrederick and 30 other authors. 2016. The bee microbiome: impact on bee health and model for evolution and ecology of host-microbe interactions. mBio 7(2): e02164-15.

Hepburn, H.R. 1986. Honeybees and wax. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Locke, B. 2016. Natural Varroa mite-surviving Apis mellifera honeybee populations. Apidologie 47:467-482.

Loftus, C.L., M.L. Smith and T.D. Seeley. 2016. How honey bee colonies survive in the wild:  testing the importance of small nests and frequent swarming.  PLoS ONE 11(3):  e0150362.

Louveaux, J. 1973. The acclimatization of bees to a heather region. Bee World 54:105-111.

Marlowe, F.W., J.C. Berbesque, B. Wood, A. Crittenden, C. Porter and A. Mabulla. 2014. Honey, Hadza, hunter-gatherers, and human evolution.  Journal of Human Evolution 71:119-128.

Martin, S.J. 1998. A population model for the ectoparastic mite Varroa jacobsoni in honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies. Ecological Modelling 109:267-281.

Martin, S.J., A.C. Highfield, L. Brettell and four other authors. 2012. Global honey bee viral landscape altered by a parasitic mite.  Science 336: 1304-1306

Mitchell, D. 2016. Ratios of colony mass to thermal conductance of tree and man-made nest enclosures of Apis mellifera: implications for survival, clustering, humidity regulation and Varroa destructor.  International Journal of Biometereology 60:629-638.

Moeller, F.E. 1975. Effect of moving honeybee colonies on their subsequent production and consumption of honey. Journal of Apicultural Research 14:127-130.

Montovan, K.J., N. Karst, L.E. Jones and T.D. Seeley. 2013.  Local behavioral rules sustain the cell allocation pattern in the combs of honey bee colonies (Apis mellifera). Journal of Theoretical Biology 336:75-86.

Moritz, R.F.A., H.M.G. Lattorff, P. Neumann and 3 other authors. 2005. Rare royal families in honey bees, Apis mellifera. Naturwissenschaften 92:488-491.

Mullin, C.A., M. Frazier, J.L. Frazier and 4 other authors. 2010. High levels of miticides and agrochemicals in North American apiaries:  implications for honey bee health. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9754.

Neumann, P. and T. Blacquiere. 2016.  The Darwin cure for apiculture?  Natural selection and managed honeybee health.  Evolutionary Applications 2016: 1-5.  DOI:10.1111/eva.12448

Phipps, J. 2016. Editorial. Natural Bee Husbandry 1:3.

Ruttner, F. 1988. Biogeography and Taxonomy of Honeybees.  Springer Verlag, Berlin.

Scofield H.N., Mattila H.R. 2015. Honey bee workers that are pollen stressed as larvae become         poor foragers and waggle dancers as adults. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0121731.

Seeley, T.D.  2002.  The effect of drone comb on a honey bee colony’s production of honey.  Apidologie 33:75-86.

Seeley, T.D. and M.L. Smith. 2015. Crowding honeybee colonies in apiaries can increase their vulnerability to the deadly ectoparasite Varroa destructor. Apidologie 46:716-727.

Strange, J.P., L. Garnery and W.S. Sheppard. 2007. Persistence of the Landes ecotype of Apis       mellifera mellifera in southwest France:  confirmation of a locally adaptive annual brood cycle trait.  Apidologie 38:259-267.

Taber, S. 1963. The effect of disturbance on the social behavior of the honey bee colony.             American Bee Journal 103 (Aug):286-288.

Weiss, K. 1965. Über den Zuckerverbrauch und die Beanspruchung der Bienen bei der     Wachserzeugung. Zeitschrift für Bienenforschung 8:106-124.

Find Thomas D. Seeley's Following the Wild Bees - The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting on Amazon and on Facebook:

Video Link to Darwinian Beekeeping:


To Douse Hot Hives, Honeybee Colonies Launch Water Squadrons

Science News     By Susan Milius    July 20, 2016

New study reveals roles, communication among social insects at time of crisis

SUPER GULP When a honeybee colony gets too hot, specialist drinker bees fly off to collect water (one shown tanking up at a pond dotted with duckweed plants). When a honeybee colony gets hot and bothered, the crisis sets tongues wagging. Middle-aged bees stick their tongues into the mouths of their elders, launching these special drinker bees to go collect water. That’s just one detail uncovered during a new study of how a colony superorganism cools in hot weather.

Using lightbulbs to make heat waves in beehives, researchers have traced how honeybees communicate about collecting water and work together in deploying it as air-conditioning. The tests show just how important water is for protecting a colony from overheating, Thomas Seeley of Cornell University and his colleagues report online July 20 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Water collection is an aspect of bee biology that we know little about, says insect physiologist Sue Nicolson of the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Collecting pollen and nectar have gotten more attention, perhaps because honeybees store them. Water mostly gets picked up as needed.

Bees often get as much water as they need in the nectar they sip. But they do need extra water at times, such as during overheating in the center of the nest where eggs and young are coddled. When researchers artificially heated that zone in two colonies confined in a greenhouse, worker bees fought back. They used their wings to fan hot air out of the hive. “You can put your hand in the opening of a hive on a hot day and feel the blast of air that’s being pushed out,” Seeley says. Several hundred bees also moved out of the nest to cluster in a beardlike mass nearby. Their evacuation reduces body heat within the nest and opens up passageways for greater airflow, he says.

The bees also had a Plan C — evaporative cooling. Middle-aged bees inside a hive walked toward the nest entrance to where a small number of elderly bees, less than 1 percent of the colony, hang out and wait until water is needed. Heat by itself doesn’t activate these bees, especially since they’re not in the overheating core. Seeley now proposes that the burst of middle-aged bees’ repeated begging for water by tongue extension eventually sends the water-collecting bees into action. They return carrying some 80 percent of their weight in water. “The water carrier comes in looking really fat, and the water receivers start out looking very skinny,” Seeley says. “Over a minute when the transfer takes place, their forms reverse.” Then the receiving bees go to the hot zone, regurgitate their load of water and use their tongues to spread it over the fevered surfaces.

In a water-deprivation experiment, bees prevented from gathering water could not prevent temperatures from rising dangerously, up to 44° Celsius, in their hive. When researchers permitted water-collector squadrons to tank up again, colonies could control temperatures. Even for multitalented bees, water is necessary for cooling, the researchers conclude.

After a severe heat stress, the researchers noticed some bees with plumped-up abdomens hanging inside the colony. “Sometime they would be lined up like bottles of beer in the refrigerator,” Seeley says. Bottled beverages is what they were, he argues, storing water and remaining available if the coming night proved as water-stressed as the day.

 “Honeybees continue to amaze,” says Dennis vanEngelsdorp of the University of Maryland in College Park, who studies bee health. “Even after centuries of study, we have something new.”

Flight Guidance Mechanisms of Honey Bee Swarms: How They Get Where They Are Going

Bee Culture Magazine    By Tom Seeley and Ann Chilcott    May 15, 2015

Kirk Visscher, left and Tom Seeley in 2006, watching a test swarm move into a bait hive on appledore Island, in the State of Maine. (photo by Peter EssickAnyone who observes a swarm of bees launch into flight and move off to its new home is presented with a mind-boggling puzzle: how does this school-bus sized cloud of some 10,000 insects manage to fly straight to its new dwelling place? Its flight path may extend for several miles and traverse fields and forest, hilltops and valleys, and even swamps and lakes. What is most amazing is the precision of the flight guidance, for the swarm is able to steer itself to one special point in the landscape, e.g. a specific knothole in one particular tree in a certain corner of a forest. And as the swarm closes in on its destination, it gradually reduces its flight speed so that it stops precisely at the “front door” of its new home. The mystery of how the thousands of bees in a swarm accomplish this magnificent feat of precisely oriented group flight has been carefully probed in recent years using sophisticated radar tracking, video recording, and image processing technologies. In this article, we will review the main findings of these investigations.

First, let’s define the problem a bit more precisely...

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How Collective Intelligence Helps Organizations Move Past Hierachical Leader Structures

TNW News Insider   By Louis Rosenberg   December 28, 2015 

Source: Louis Masai

Conventional wisdom tells us that organizations run best when critical decisions are made by a strong and capable CEO.

This is true even if it means calling upon a temporary leader until a permanent replacement can be found (as we saw with Twitter’s recent scramble to bring on Jack Dorsey).

Of course, this begs the question – are there alternatives to top-down decision-making that can achieve better outcomes?

I’m not suggesting we do away with hierarchical leadership structures, but if there are ways for companies to make smarter decisions, it’s worth understanding them and exploring if new technologies can help us implement such methods.

To research this issue, I looked to nature and was inspired by the remarkable decision-making abilities of honeybees.

Like an organization facing bankruptcy or a desperate round of financing, bee colonies face a life-or-death decision every year – selecting a new hive location.

From hollow trees to abandoned sheds, a colony will consider dozens of candidate sites over a 30 square mile area, evaluating each with respect to dozens of competing criteria.  Does it have sufficient ventilation?  Is it safe from predators?  Is it large enough to store honey for winter?

It’s a highly complex decision with many tradeoffs and a misstep means death to the colony. This is a decision even a seasoned CEO would not want to face.

Remarkably, honeybees make optimal decisions.

As revealed by the painstaking research of Thomas Seeley at Cornell University, honeybees select the very best site at least 80 percent of the time.

You might assume that means each colony has a strong leader – “a Queen bee” that weighs all the competing factors, from the volume required for honey storage to the complexities of seasonal temperature control, but you’d be wrong. The Queen does not participate in any of the decisions that govern the colony.

So, who makes this critical decision about where the colony should move?  Nobody does.  Or, more specifically – everybody does.

That’s because individual honeybees lack the mental capacity to make a decision this complex and nuanced.  But, when they pool the knowledge and experience of their most senior scout bees, they evoke a “Collective Intelligence” that is not only able to make the decision, it finds the optimal solution.

In other words, by working together as a unified system, the organization (i.e., the bee colony) is able to amplify its intelligence well beyond the capacity of any individual member of the group.  And they do this with no bosses or workers.  No hierarchy at all. 

Louis Masai

In fact, it’s so exciting it’s been the focus of my own research efforts for the last few years – exploring if networked teams can pool their knowledge, opinions, and insights to forge a unified Collective Intelligence that can think smarter together.

So, can we get smarter by pooling our knowledge, insights, and opinions?

Yes, researchers are recognizing the power that connected groups can unleash.

At the simplest level, we can pool our intelligence by casting votes and taking the average.

Often called “the Wisdom of Crowds”, research shows that the average estimate from a large group is almost always more accurate than the estimates given by the vast majority of individuals. The problem is, simple votes are highly sensitive to social biases that can greatly distort the outcome.

For example, recent research shows that if you poll a team in a hierarchical organization, members are often influenced by what they think their boss wants to hear or what they think the group already believes.  Thus, instead of insights being combined and strengthened across an organization, decisions often get distorted as they go the management chain.

Even a relatively flat organization can have barriers to unleashing their Collective Intelligence.

These groups can be thought of as “herds” because they function the way natural herds do – a single individual darts in one direction and the rest of the group follows.

This tendency toward “herding” is exacerbated by social media and other modern technologies. We euphemistically call it “trending” or “going viral” but often it’s just a random impulse gone astray, amplifying noise rather than harnessing intelligence.

In fact, a brilliant study out of MIT, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and NYU shows that if you randomly assign the first vote in an up-voting system similar to Reddit, that single first opinion will influence the final result by 25 percent, even if thousands of votes follow.

So, what would a decision-making process look like if there were no leaders and no followers, but a balanced structure that allowed the group to solve a problem together and find the optimal solution?

For one, if everyone in an organization had an equal voice, it could resolve many of the current gender inequality issues in the workplace, which are quickly becoming a monumental crisis.

Other forms of discrimination – intentional or not – could be avoided as well.

But beyond that, could we boost our overall intelligence, making decisions that exceed the ability of any of the team members?

I believe we can, although we need to look beyond the simple votes and polls that have been the mainstay of Collective Intelligence efforts, and employ new methods and technologies.

One path is to refer back to those amazing honeybees. They don’t cast votes, they form systems – “swarms” – that use feedback loops to combine their input in real-time and converge on optimal solutions together. But can organizations make decisions that way?


Referred to as Human Swarming, teams can be connected by specialized networking software that allow them to form closed-loop systems and tackle problems as a unified intelligence.

In a recent study that I was involved in, groups predicted the winners of the 2015 Oscars by working together in online swarms and greatly out-performed standard votes and polls.

All in all, I’m optimistic that emerging technologies will make us better and better at harnessing the Collective Intelligence of organizations. This will allow companies to leverage the combined brainpower of teams by merging diverse ideas and opinions, insights and intuition.

This could lead to smarter decisions and more inclusive strategies.

Of course, using Collective Intelligence to guide decisions doesn’t mean leadership becomes less important, as there are many ways to be a good leader. It will just put more weight on other leadership qualities – like offering vision and encouragement, with passion and inclusion.

Image credit:@louismasai

Some Honeybee Colonies Adapt In Wake Of Deadly Mites

 Cornell University/Cornell Chronicle    By Krishna Ramanujan   August 7, 2015

A new genetics study of wild honeybees offers clues to how a population has adapted to a mite that has devastated bee colonies worldwide. The findings may aid beekeepers and bee breeders to prevent future honeybee declines.

The researchers genetically analyzed museum samples collected from wild honeybee colonies in 1977 and 2010; the bees came from Cornell University’s Arnot Forest. In comparing genomes from the two time periods, the results – published Aug. 6 in Nature Communications – show clear evidence that the wild honeybee colonies experienced a genetic bottleneck - a loss of genetic diversity - when theVarroa destructor mites killed most of the honeybee colonies. But some colonies survived, allowing the population to rebound.

“The study is a unique and powerful contribution to understanding how honeybees have been impacted by the introduction of Varroa destructor, and how, if left alone, they can evolve resistance to this deadly parasite,” said Thomas Seeley, the Horace White Professor in Biology at Cornell and the paper’s senior author. Sasha Mikheyev ’00, an assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan, is the paper’s first author.

“The paper is also a clear demonstration of the importance of museum collections, in this case the Cornell University Insect Collection, and the importance of wild places, such as Cornell’s Arnot Forest,” Seeley added.

In the 1970s, Seeley surveyed the population of wild colonies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) in Arnot Forest, and found 2.5 colonies per square mile. By the early 1990s, V. destructor mites had spread across the U.S. to New York state and were devastating bee colonies. The mites infest nursery cells in honeybee nests and feed on developing bees while also transferring virulent viruses.

A 2002 survey of Arnot Forest by Seeley revealed the same abundance of bee colonies as in the late 1970s, suggesting that either new colonies from beekeepers' hives had repopulated the area, or that the existing population had undergone strong natural selection and came out with good resistance.

By 2010, advances in DNA technology, used previously to stitch together fragmented DNA from Neanderthal samples, gave Mikheyev, Seeley and colleagues the tools for whole-genome sequencing and comparing museum and modern specimens.

The results revealed a huge loss in diversity of mitochondrial genes, which are passed from one generation to the next only through the female lineage. This shows that the wild population of honeybees experienced a genetic bottleneck. Such bottlenecks arise when few individuals reproduce, reducing the gene pool. “Maybe only four or five queens survived and repopulated the forest,” Seeley said.

At the same time, the surviving bees show high genetic diversity in their nuclear genes, passed on by dying colonies that still managed to produce male bees. The nuclear DNA showed widespread genetic changes, a signature of adaptation. “Even when a colony is not doing well, it can still produce a batch of males, so nuclear genes were not lost,” Seeley said.

The data also show a lack of genes coming from outside populations, such as beekeepers' bees.

The surviving bees evolved to be smaller, suggesting these bees might require less time to develop. Since the mites infest nursery cells in hives, the shorter development time may allow young bees to develop into adulthood before the mites can finish their development. Mite-resistant honeybees in Africa are also small and have short development times, Seeley said.

Next, the researchers will study which genes and traits confer resistance to Varroa mites. The findings may help beekeepers to avoid pesticides for controlling mites and to trust the process of natural selection, and bee breeders to develop bees with the traits that have enabled bees to survive in the wild.

The study was funded by the OIST and the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.

Read at:

Thomas Seeley to speak at the 2014 CSBA Convention

California State Beekeepers Association  November 5, 2014

Thomas Seeley, a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University (and a beekeeper) will be the keynote speaker at the 2014 CSBA Annual Convention, Nov. 18-20.

Dr. Seeley will share the results of his study, "A Survivor Population of European Honey Bees Living in the Wild in New York State" at the Research Lunch.

He is one of the leading researchers in the field of Swarm Intelligence, certainly the best specialist of the collective behavior of honeybees (and probably bees in general).

"Choosing the right dwelling place is a life-or-death matter for a honeybee colony," he writes in his book,Honeybee Democracy. "If a colony chooses poorly, and so occupies a nest cavity that is too small to hold the honey stores to survive winter, or that provides it with poor protection from cold winds and hungry marauders, then it will die."

Seeley says: “Swarm intelligence is the solving of a cognitive problem by two or more individuals who independently collect information and process it through social interactions.   With the right organization, a group can overcome the cognitive limitations of its members and achieve a high collective IQ.   To understand how to endow groups with swarm intelligence, it is useful to examine natural systems that have evolved this ability.   An excellent example is a swarm of honey bees solving the life-or-death problem of finding a new home.   A honey bee swarm accomplishes this through a process that includes collective fact-finding, open sharing of information, vigorous debating, and fair voting by the hundreds of bees in a swarm that function as nest-site scouts.”

The third talk by Dr. Seeley "The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory" is about the inner working of a honey bee colony so that it gathers and processes its nectar efficiently, despite tremendous day-to-day differences in nectar availability. An important part of the organization of honey production is the division of labor between foragers, elderly bees who work outside the hive to gather the nectar, and food storers, somewhat younger bees that work inside the hive to process the nectar into honey. We will see how the bees keep the rates of nectar collecting and nectar processing in balance—by means of the tremble dance and stop signal—and so boost the efficiency of a colony’s energy acquisition. (For this talk, he will draw heavily on material reported in his book The Wisdom of the Hive.)

Check out Dr. Seeley's video: Swarm Intelligence in Honey Bees

More about Dr. Seeley on this website: 

Honeybee Democracy          By Doug Fabrizio     May 23, 2014

( "Tom Seeley was interviewed by RadioWest recently, and they talked about... wait for it... wait for it... Swarms. Not how to control them, or how to detect swarming before it happens, but about the process, and what goes on in all those tiny brains. Nearly an hour, but it is an mp3, so you can download it, (right-click on the play button, and "save as") and listen to it on the subway. Tom is always worth a listen.")

Over millions of years, honeybees have evolved to act as a collective. Together, they identify and deliberate new nest locations and then navigate there as a swarm. Thomas Seeley loves honey bees, and he knows a lot about them. But there's one thing that remains a mystery to him: how do bees know when to swarm? As he searches for the answer, Seeley's learning what these insects can teach humans about making decisions. Seeley joins us Friday to talk about the lives of bees and their democracy. [Rebroadcast]

Thomas Seeley is a professor in the Department of Neurology and Behavior at Cornell University. He's the author of Honeybee Democracy [Amazon|Indiebound] and The Wisdom of the Hive [Amazon|Indiebound]

Listen and Download:

(Note: We are honored that Thomas Seeley will be speaking at the California State Beekeepers Association Annual Convention in Valencia, CA November 18-20, 2014.)

The Five Habits of Highly Effective Honeybees & What We Can Learn From Them

The Five Habits of Highly Effective Honeybees (and What We Can Learn from Them): From "Honeybee Democracy" (Princeton Shorts)[Kindle Edition]
By Thomas D. Seeley

Studies of animal behavior have often been invoked to help explain and even guide human behavior. Think of Pavlov and his dogs or Goodall and her chimps. But, as these examples indicate, the tendency has been to focus on "higher," more cognitively developed, and thus, it is thought, more intelligent creatures than mindless, robotic insects. Not so! Learn here how honeybees work together to form a collective intelligence and even how they make decisions democratically. The wizzzzdom of crowds indeed! Here are five habits of effective groups that we can learn from these clever honeybees.

Princeton Shorts are brief selections excerpted from influential Princeton University Press publications produced exclusively in eBook format. They are selected with the firm belief that while the original work remains an important and enduring product, sometimes we can all benefit from a quick take on a topic worthy of a longer book.

In a world where every second counts, how better to stay up-to speed on current events and digest the kernels of wisdom found in the great works of the past? Princeton Shorts enables you to be an instant expert in a world where information is everywhere but quality is at a premium. The Five Habits of Highly Effective Honeybees (and What We Can Learn from Them) does just that.

Thomas D. Seeley and BEES featured on NOVA/What Are Animals Thinking?

This AMAZING interview with Thomas D. Seeley and BEES was Broadcast on PBS November 7, 2012. Now available for viewing online at NOVA/What Are Animals Thinking? ("Hive Mind" Ch. 4, Time code 33:50).

Read more about Thomas D. Seeley, Biologist at Cornell University Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Author of "Honeybee Democracy," "Honeybee Ecology," and "The Wisdom of the Hive."

Honeybee Democracy/Thomas D. Seeley on Nova/What Animals Think

The bees and Thomas D. Seeley (author of Honeybee Democracy) are featured in the next episode of Nova ScienceNow/What Animals Think on Nov. 7, 2012. Check your local listing for time. All filmed on Appledore Island (Shoals Marine Lab).