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Last sync:2023-11-27 22:45
Hank fills us in on the democratic ways of the honeybee and makes a request for more interpretive dance in our own political systems.

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So once again it is election season here in the United States of America and watching all this TV and reading all the news, it is hard not to think that there must be a better way of doing this. Well, there is: the honey bee way. A bee hive is actually one of the most awesome examples of true democracy in nature.

At the beginning of each Summer, a hive has typically gotten so big that it literally cannot accommodate another bee. So the biggest decision a colony has to make every year is where to relocate, and that decision is made not by the queen, but by the workers - all non-reproductive females - and everybody gets a vote.

We think of bee colonies as being monarchies since they have something that we call a "queen", however the queen doesn't actually make many decisions, she mostly just sits around laying eggs and producing pheromones that tell the workers where she is and how she's doing.

So when the hive gets too crowded, about half the worker bees along with the queen leave their home in search of new digs - this is called swarming. Thousands of bees just leave all at once and hang out on a tree limb or something, forming a clump about the size of a soccer ball. Now if you ever come across one of these clumps, it's OK they're not in the stinging mood. They have more important stuff on their minds: they need to find a new home - something high off the ground with a narrow opening and a lot of volume inside, and they need to find it quick.

Of the thousands of workers in the swarm, about 300-500 of the oldest, most-experienced ones then leave to scout for nest sites. Each bee in the search committee spends a day checking out tree cavities, abandoned chimneys, that sort of thing, and they take all kinds of measurements of each potential site: its total volume, how much sun it gets, how protected it is from the elements et cetera.

But the really cool stuff happens when the scouts come back. To convey all of the specs of the sites that they just visited, each scout does a little special waggle dance (it's actually called a waggle dance) which tells the other bees everything about it. Depending on how awesome the site is the bee might do the dance a bunch of times in a row so that more bees can see it, or maybe just a few times in which case fewer bees will see it. For a really awesome site, she might spend 10 minutes doing her dance over and over and over, sort of like a bee filibuster.

When other scouts see her dance they go and have a look themselves and they come back. If they like it they'll dance for that same site. Say the site's a really great one, they'll dance just as long as the first bee did, which will catch other scouts attention and they'll go look at the site and come back and give their opinion. All the votes start to snowball and after a couple of days one site will come out above the rest.

Not only is this extremely cool, but studies of bee colonies over multiple years found that 99% of the time the bees end up choosing the highest-quality nesting site available. The key to their success seems to be that each bee comes to the conclusion about the site on her own. She goes out, takes a look at it, takes her own measurements, and comes back and votes.

So no matter your political persuasion, take a tip from the bees. From now on in politics I wanna see more participation, more thinking for yourself, and more interpretive dancing.

(Hank dances)

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