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Quorum determines new hive site: honeybees

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Honey bee colony / Thomas D. Se.. / LicenseCopyright - All Rights Reserved

Honeybees in a colony select a new hive location via quorum.

When a honeybee hive becomes overcrowded, the hive generally splits in two and one group must find a new site. To determine an appropriate location, a number of "scout" bees investigate potential sites. Each returns to the swarm, communicating how promising the site it assessed is by how vigorously it performs a "waggle dance," which includes a code indicating the site's location. Based upon the relative vigor of these dances, other scouts locate and assess the more strongly recommended locations.

As soon as the number of bees at any given potential site reaches about 15, this group returns to the swarm, spreading through it to signal a final decision to relocate to that site. As a result, the swarm follows and sets up its hive in this new location.
"Thomas Seeley, a biologist at Cornell University, has been looking into the uncanny ability of honeybees to make good decisions. With as many as 50,000 workers in a single hive, honeybees have evolved ways to work through individual differences of opinion to do what's best for the colony. If only people could be as effective in boardrooms, church committees, and town meetings, Seeley says, we could avoid problems making decisions in our own lives.

"During the past decade, Seeley, Kirk Visscher of the University of California, Riverside, and others have been studying colonies of honeybees (Apis mellifera) to see how they choose a new home. In late spring, when a hive gets too crowded, a colony normally splits, and the queen, some drones, and about half the workers fly a short distance to cluster on a tree branch. There the bees bivouac while a small percentage of them go searching for new real estate. Ideally, the site will be a cavity in a tree, well off the ground, with a small entrance hole facing south, and lots of room inside for brood and honey. Once a colony selects a site, it usually won't move again, so it has to make the right choice.

"To find out how, Seeley's team applied paint dots and tiny plastic tags to identify all 4,000 bees in each of several small swarms that they ferried to Appledore Island, home of the Shoals Marine Laboratory. There, in a series of experiments, they released each swarm to locate nest boxes they'd placed on one side of the half-mile-long (one kilometer) island, which has plenty of shrubs but almost no trees or other places for nests.

"In one test they put out five nest boxes, four that weren't quite big enough and one that was just about perfect. Scout bees soon appeared at all five. When they returned to the swarm, each performed a waggle dance urging other scouts to go have a look. (These dances include a code giving directions to a box's location.) The strength of each dance reflected the scout's enthusiasm for the site. After a while, dozens of scouts were dancing their little feet off, some for one site, some for another, and a small cloud of bees was buzzing around each box.

"The decisive moment didn't take place in the main cluster of bees, but out at the boxes, where scouts were building up. As soon as the number of scouts visible near the entrance to a box reached about 15—a threshold confirmed by other experiments—the bees at that box sensed that a quorum had been reached, and they returned to the swarm with the news.

"'It was a race,' Seeley says. 'Which site was going to build up 15 bees first?'

"Scouts from the chosen box then spread through the swarm, signaling that it was time to move. Once all the bees had warmed up, they lifted off for their new home, which, to no one's surprise, turned out to be the best of the five boxes.

"The bees' rules for decision-making—seek a diversity of options, encourage a free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices—so impressed Seeley that he now uses them at Cornell as chairman of his department." (Miller 2007:4-5)
About the inspiring organism
Med_bee_swarm_on_great_maple honey bee
Apis mellifera Linnaeus
Common name: Honey bee

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Large groups can organize without top-down or centralized control using simple decision-making rules such as considering diverse options, encouraging free competition among ideas, and using an effective mechanism (e.g., range voting) to narrow choices. Business teams can become more efficient and effective by establishing a non-traditional management approach void of supervision. Communities can effectively respond to natural disasters without one leader by effectively communicating and following simple rules designed to help others.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Government, community planning, business management, disaster planning

Department of Neurobiology and Behavior
Thomas Seeley Carl D. Hopkins
Cornell University
Entomology: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Kirk Visscher
College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of California Riverside
Miller, Peter. 2007. The Genius of Swarms. National Geographic [Internet],
Learn More at Google Scholar Google Scholar  


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over 2 years ago
@Diana Thomas

the swarm will leave the hive around noon and they will have found a new home before sunset.

This is also the reason a beekeeper only enters a hive after noon, just to precvent a swarm is created because of the beekeeper
over 2 years ago
about 1 year ago
Is there only 1 queen bee to a hive? If this is so how does the queen bees moving to another hive affect the first hive?

From what I understand when the hive splits but temporarily clusters on a tree branch not too far from the original hive. How is this temporary place selected?[/quote]

dear Ratshah. normally there is only one queen in the hive. If they decide to move the queen and workers prepare 3-8 new queens. If the first larve is capped the queen leaves with have the hive population to a new home.

after 7 days the first new queens uncaps her cocoon and present herself to the workers. she makes a noise with het wings and legs. Other queens who aren't ready yet to leave the cocoon try to answer and the sound is different but everybody knows the're more queens.

If the draft is good and the population is big enough she will also leave at noon with again half the poplation of the hive( virgin swarm). This continues untill splitting is no further possible without the risk of getting a to small poplationto survive.

if the risk is too high, the not born queens will be destroyed by the workers.
Everythig is based on surviving and growing to keep the species alive.
over 2 years ago
I'm working on setting up a human society based on the systems used in nature by ants and bees and others. I believe such a system will quickly create vastly superior technology and quickly solve all currently known problems of mankind. I believe it will out compete current society. It has the potential to end poverty and bring about World Peace.

You can find out more about it at my websites:
over 3 years ago
It looks like bees have a nice strategy of relocating. It would be so nice to see this whole thing happening in front of you! Can anybody tell how much time is needed to complete this whole process of selecting new hive? After the hive is split how is the selection of new queen is done? I found many answers related to bees from this site.
over 4 years ago
Is there only 1 queen bee to a hive? If this is so how does the queen bees moving to another hive affect the first hive?

From what I understand when the hive splits but temporarily clusters on a tree branch not too far from the original hive. How is this temporary place selected?
over 7 years ago
New research finds a "stop" signal to warn nest mates of feeding sites where a foraging bee was attacked:
over 8 years ago
Economist story on how bees avoid groupthink and how this could be applied to politics.
1 to 7 of 7 Comments