The Occasional Hymenoptera: Seeley on honey bees

Thomas D. Seeley and friends

The Science Friday blog gives us an early Christmas present this year: Ten short videos of Thomas D. Seeley explaining honey bee behavior. Dr. Seeley is Professor of Biology in the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University and is possibly the premier expert on honey bee behavior. In fact on a blurb to one of his books someone said that he does for bees what Wilson does for ants. (Academics really should refrain from advertising hype: Doestoevsky did for the epileptics what Tolstoy did for adulteresses?)

The videos give insight into the process by which a swarm of bees locates, decides on, sets out for and establishes a new nest site. Seeley is in the tradition of the great natural historians who not only can spend hours to discover the secrets of a particular animal’s behavior but can convey their enthusiasm to the most jaded zoophobe.

Seeley explains that the decision where to colonize is made on the basis of a bee form of democracy. He describes the procedure: how the scouts communicate their discoveries, how they determine which new site to select and how they rouse the others to follow their lead. It’s direct democracy among an elite few, something like ancient Athens or the old cantons of Switzerland. The procedure they follow are like a very basic Robert’s Rules of Order. Check out the videos here.

Fortunately, you can not only enjoy the videos but give Seeley as a gift. His book, Honeybee Democracy (Princeton U Press: 2010), was published this past Fall and contains a well-written narrative of how all this was discovered. It is well-illustrated and begs to sit on your coffee table. (Or the table on which you brew herbal tea or set your hookah.) It is the culmination of many years of research and an important addition to Seeley’s many well-regarded popular and technical publications. It is the kind of book that makes reviewers gush (as we saw above).

And if you don’t have a good bookstore handy, amazon.com promises to have it to you before Christmas, if you act now. (But given amazon’s action regarding Wikileaks, should we support it? What the hell, it’s Christmas.)

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  1. December 31st, 2010

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