By: Thomas D. Seeley
Since boyhood I have been fascinated by honeybee behavior. As an adult, my experience in thermal packaging and engineering led me circuitously to Thomas Seeley’s book. How was it, I thought, that regardless of the weather conditions outside a honeybee hive, the core of the colony inside remains constant at 95°F? Whether its 120° above zero or 20° below zero, the internal hive temperature will not vary by more than +/- one-half degree. Hive architecture certainly plays a major role but to what extent? Honeybee evolution over millions of years has resulted in an organism with absolute mastery of their environment. Their seasonal life-cycle is incredibly complex. A colony consisting of tens of thousands of individual bees works with remarkable cooperation, precision and expediency, to democratically make all decisions - as a collective - with the express purpose of benefitting the hive – and only the hive. They are a superorganism with a “hive mind,” an army of workers that stake their very existence on each other - a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. Every aspect of a colony’s existence is dependent on this - from house building to foraging; from attending their queen, to nurturing developing brood; from managing inventories of honey stores and pollen, to looking for a new home (swarming). All these things are regulated by precise thermal regulation within the hive generated by the bees themselves.
I found these facts so compelling that I invested in tending honeybees and running my own experiments to observe and validate Dr. Seeley’s findings first-hand. Honeybee Democracy ignited my understanding of honeybee biology and social structure and taught me that what works for honeybees can also work for people in that any decision makiing group works best when it consists of individuals with shared interest and mutual respect, where a leader’s influence is minimized, debate relied upon, and where diverse solutions should be sought, and where majority should be counted on for dependable resolution.