Honeybees make decisions collectively--and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley's pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees. In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together--as a swirling cloud of bees--to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution. An impressive exploration of animal behavior, Honeybee Democracy shows that decision-making groups, whether honeybee or human, can be smarter than even the smartest individuals in them.
From the Back Cover
Honeybee Democracy is a wonderful book, beautifully written and illustrated, about humanity's greatest friend among the insects. The honeybee is important not only for its role in agriculture but for what it has taught us concerning the fundamental nature of complex social organization. Seeley, its leading authority, here presents it to a broad readership, with scientific exactitude written in lyrical prose. --Edward O. Wilson, coauthor of The Superorganism From bees to brains, Seeley takes us on a remarkable scientific journey of discovery. Through a landmark series of studies, he explores how honeybee swarms decide where to relocate, and from this fascinating tale of life or death, he gives us deep insights into how social systems can make good choices without global information or direct leadership. This book is a masterpiece of intense investigation, careful thought, clear writing, and love for one's subject. --John Miller, Carnegie Mellon University and the Santa Fe Institute Seeley presents an engaging story of honeybees, hives, and scientific investigators to illustrate how choices are made through self-organization in hives, human brains, and even town meetings. Honeybee Democracy offers practical lessons told through vivid language. --Jeffrey D. Schall, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Neuroscience, Vanderbilt University Honeybee Democracy is a sheer delight. Seeley, a superb scientist and a gifted communicator, shares fascinating learning and lessons from his splendid work with these remarkable insects. His enthusiasm is infectious and he persuasively shows that there is a great deal humans can gain from studying swarm smarts. I love this book and recommend it highly. --Michael J. Mauboussin, author of Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition Honeybee Democracy tells one of the great stories of biology and is pertinent to general readers everywhere. --Bernd Heinrich, author of Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival Honeybee Democracy is a pleasure to read. Seeley conveys the bee scientist's love and respect for the honeybee, the ingenuity necessary for uncovering the secrets of honeybee life, and the fun that is had in doing so. In an era increasingly dominated by big science and its technology, this book reminds us that a common insect and a few ingenious researchers, armed with equipment obtainable from the local shopping mall, can lead us into a remarkable world. --Francis Ratnieks, University of Sussex