Thursday, October 26, 2006

Wanna see me do the bee dance?

Okay, since I can't run anymore, I can blog about something else that I think is really cool, and once in a while somebody says they like to read about the science on my blog.

I attended another interesting seminar yesterday, this time it was about honeybees, and the way they communicate and the way the make decisions. I don't know how much you know about this, but honeybees can communicate the location of a food source to other bees by doing a little dance. They wiggle around and walk in one direction, and the length of their dance is proportional to the distance of the food source, and the angle they move in is equal to the direction of the food with respect to the sun. There's a little video of it on youtube, it's adorable : Link. So, in this way they can communicate the direction and the distance of the food they found to all the other bees.

They also do the same dance when they're moving to a new home, and they find a good site for their hive, and they want to tell everybody about it. It's pretty interesting because they all move together, and their decision making process is very efficient, as they always choose the best option. (They have very well defined preferences for their homesite - they prefer large volume cavities, with small entrances, that are high off the ground) The guy presented their strategies in the context that we could learn a thing or two when we have to make our own decisions as a group. How often does a group of people choose the best option?

They have scout bees that go out, and find sites, and return and tell everybody where they are. Initially there are lots of different sites, and some bees are doing their little dances for a variety of them, but dancing for the best sites persists and eventually everybody is dancing for the same site.

Some key points to their decision making process:
  • There are a lot of options initially, everything is considered.
  • No bee ever dances for a site without visiting it herself. So, there's no conformity for conformity's sake.
  • They take their time to decide. They have to take their time, only the scout bees are prepared for long distance flight. Everybody else is semi-dormant and just hanging out, and they can't just jump up and fly off the moment one bee comes back and is fired up and in love with some particular site.
  • The scouts report their opinion of a site a few times, but then they stop. Good ideas persist by the action of other bees, who have visited the site themselves and agree that it's good.
  • They wait for a fairly high quorum before they begin preparing for flight. By the end, 80-100% of the scouts are in agreement as to which way to go.

    I think it's interesting anyways. There's nobody making the final decision, they decide together, and they make the right choice. There's also some interesting things about how they know when it's time to finally pick up an go too.

    Anyway, I still don't know what I'll do about the race on Sunday. One downside to running as much as I have in the past few days is that I don't ever want to run ever again.

    Listening to: Nothing

    Keith out.

    Vic said...

    Wow, that's so cool!!!

    elf said...

    Who gave the seminar? A good friend of mine when I was in college was a grad student who studied the waggle dance.

    Thanks for the kind comments on my race report--hope to see you tomorrow at the half!

    Keith said...

    It was a guy named Thomas Seeley from Cornell I think.

    See you tomorrow Erin.