The recent American election once again highlighted that electoral politics in the United States are very different in structure than in Canada – electoral colleges, simultaneous elections of Congress and Senate, ballot initiatives and the fact that based on remit of powers, an American President has far less influence over his country than a Canadian Prime Minister (PoliSci 101 and a great digression from our topic at hand!)
However, did you know that HONEYBEES also have their own elections, complete with smear campaigns, speechifying and converting as many undecided voters into supporters as possible? This week’s PBS’ Nova Science Now showed how Honeybees decide on a new nesting site. The knowledge was presented as part of understanding how information is shared and how the human brain may function more like a hive mind in and of itself than previously thought.
The waggle dance is an integral part of bee communication, including as part of bee swarming behaviour. Bee swarms occur when bees decide to look for a new home, and are actually not a danger to people (unless you try and stop them). When a bee has identified a possible location, it returns to the swarm to communicate this knowledge through a waggle dance. The dance includes the direction of the new location, and the number of repeats indicates just how great the bee thinks this new spot will be. As bees are converted from undecided to believers (some go out and visit the spot for themselves, like a proper voter seeking to make an informed decision) they too perform the same dance.
However, some bees identify other locations, and make their case with their own waggle dances. Proponents of an alternative try and stop them, literally by head-butting them and ‘beeping’ their displeasure or disagreement.
Eventually, as more bees waggle their support for one nesting location, the vote is made and the majority rule means the bees start to swarm and head off to their new, greener pastures.
Who would have thought a hive mind with a rigid caste system could demonstrate such a clean-cut democracy to put our own politicking to shame?
Unfortunately, being PBS, the online video will not play in Canada – but you can read the video transcript here. If you are in the USA, you are fortunate and can watch the video! However, I did locate another video just to demonstrate the wonderfulness of the waggle dance that everyone can see.