Antisocial Beehavior or Life of the Party?
Researchers at the University of Illinois have recently concluded that honeybees are very much like humans when it comes to socializing. Some enjoy it more than others.
There are the “social butterflies” which are bees that spend plenty of time with other hive members, and then there are the “hermits” that prefer their own company.
How do researchers know this? They monitored thousands of bees, using computer analysis and image capturing techniques, including affixing barcodes to the bees to monitor them. In this manner they monitored their interactions in the colony.
Results indicated that bees and humans are very alike regarding their social patterns within communities. Some bees are more likely to socialize than others. Taking this a step further, the amount of time any given bee spends with other bees varies and is an individual preference.
In this 4:40-minute video by Science News that is unrelated to the study discussed in this blog post, the theme is that antisocial bees share a genetic profile with autistic people:
There were some amazing similarities between human and bee behavior concerning amount of time spent with others of their species. While each bee is distinctively different, they are more alike than humans are to each other.
Lead author of the new study, Nigel Goldenfeld, along with his colleagues, assessed how much time individual honey bees spent together over the period of their lifetimes in a hive.
In order to make it easier to identify and track the bees, they were each marked with a bar code. This also made it easier to monitor their interactions with other bees around them.
Some bees spent much longer periods of time with individual bees, the team found, while other honeybees turned away to avoid any bees or sought the company of different bees. Time spent together became very pronounced during food sharing or food transferring times or communal and face-to-face events.
According to Goldenfeld, the team used a measure of inequality from economics to quantify the individual differences in both humans and honey bees.
They were able to show that although bees have individual differences, they display less individuality than humans do. This could be accounted for by the fact that bees have less genetic variety from each other than humans do.
This demonstrates how individuality of variation can lead to universal patterns of behavior across different species and specific mechanisms for social interactions. Further to this, Goldenfeld points out that the duration of any interaction in a society, regardless of the species, is a standard measure of its collective nature.
In the case of the honeybees, their interactions and the duration of them can reflect variability in individual behavior within a wider community. In this research, it followed a ‘heavy-tailed distribution’ pattern. A few bees spent a lot of time together, but most bees spent very little time together.
The researchers found that the ‘cross-species universality’ that was evident in both humans and bees began with individual variability between different bees as they interact socially.
The team then studied the total interaction time spent by each individual bee, how many total interactions each bee engaged in, and the total number of partners with which a particular bee interacted.
Genetically related bees had fewer individual differences than human family members, but there was some individuality according to the team, including the fact that some were more likely to engage in food sharing than others.
The authors found that individual differences can lead to universal behavior patterns that transcend species, context and mechanisms for social interactions.
So next time you see a swarm of bees, or visit a beehive, even if all the bees look relatively identical to you, remember that most of them have some subtle differences that make them individuals and that some are loners while others enjoy socializing.
These findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. You can access them here.
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