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.

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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.”

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

CSBA Annual Convention: Register Now!

 You can Save on the 2014 CSBA Annual Convention if you Register Now!
Online Pre-Registration Cut-Off is November 6.  Mail no later than October 30. 

"Celebrating 125 Years of California Beekeeping" 

When the California State Beekeeper's Association, founded in 1889, meets November 18-20, in Valencia, CA for its 2014 convention, it will mark a milestone: 125 years of beekeeping. Thus the theme of this year's convention: "Celebrating 125 Years of California Beekeeping."

CSBA President, Bill Lewis, has put together a Convention Program that will inform, entertain, and enlighten.  Take some time to look it over. You should be able to find presentations addressing your level of beekeeping, from the beginning backyard hobbyist to the largest commercial beekeeper.  The hard part will be making decisions as to which sessions to attend.

Learn About Our Excellent Speakers!
 "We'll hear about things going on in the world of beekeeping on the local, state, and national levels," says Lewis. Our Keynote Speaker is Dr. Thomas Seeley, bee behavior expert from Cornell University. He'll share with us the results of his study, "A Survivor Population of European Honey Bees Living in the Wild in New York State."

Read more about A Gathering of Beekeepers.

If you're visiting from out of town and have a few more days to spend, there's lot's of Activities in Valencia/Santa Clarita Valley/and Beyond!

Each year funds raised at the CSBA convention go to research. Researchers attend the conference and provide updates. They are in "the front lines of the bee health battle," Lewis noted.

The convention (as well as membership in the California State Beekeeper's Association) is open to all interested persons.

CSBA President, Bill Lewis, says: "I hope everybody noticed page 92 of the October 2014 'Bee Culture' magazine.  Thanks Kim!"
It's going to be a great convention!  Don't Miss It!

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.)

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

TONIGHT - NOV. 7, 2012

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).

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).