How do bees choose a new home?

Not all honeybee species think like the common western hive bee when it comes to deciding on a place to nest. Some are capable of making faster collective decisions, according to James Makinson and his University of Sydney and Thai university colleagues.


“When western hive bees want to find a new place to nest, the queen and a subset of the colony’s workers set out as a swarm, which forms a temporary cluster close to their existing nest site. Scout bees then take off and search for a specific nest location,” James says.

James Makinson filming a giant Asian honey bee (Apis dorsata) cluster in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. Credit: James Makinson
James Makinson filming a giant Asian honey bee (Apis dorsata) cluster in Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand. Credit: James Makinson

The scout bees will spend around 40 minutes evaluating a potential nest site before returning to the swarm.

But James has found that two little-known species—the giant Asian honeybee and the tiny red dwarf honeybee—use a more rapid, collective decision-making process that enables them to choose a new home quickly. And they aren’t as fussy when it comes to the quality of their new home.

With farmed bees under pressure worldwide James’ work has implications for managing pollination services, ecological health and pest control.

For more information: Fresh Science, freshscience.org.au/stories

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