Extreme Cooperation of  Superorganisms

Four Lessons Humans Can Learn from Bees

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Peter Moskovits

IBM, Program Director
World-wide Developer Advocacy

@pmoskovi

containers, blockchain, AI/ML, serverless, Java

Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms

Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms

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Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms

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Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms

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Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms

Four Lessons Humans Can Learn from Bees

superorganism [sü-pər-ˈȯr-gə-ˌni-zəm]

NOUN

Biology

A group or association of organisms which behaves in some respect like a single organism; a complex system consisting of a large number of organisms which itself behaves as if it were an organic whole, as human society, an ecosystem, etc.

superorganism [sü-pər-ˈȯr-gə-ˌni-zəm]

NOUN

Biology

A group or association of organisms which behaves in some respect like a single organism; a complex system consisting of a large number of organisms which itself behaves as if it were an organic whole, as human society, an ecosystem, etc.

Descendent of wasps that lived
100 million years ago

Developed hand-in-hand with flowering plants

Switched to vegetarian diet:

  • Nectar: carbohydrate (energy)
  • Pollen: protein (feed youngsters)

Developed strong mutual dependence with flowering plants

European Honey Bee

(Apis mellifera)

Worker

  • Bees on the flowers
  • A typical colony has 10,000-80,000 worker bees
  • Worker bees are all female
  • They live ~6-12 weeks (summer vs. winter)
  • They collect nectar (carbs) and pollen (protein)

Queen

  • Only one queen in a colony
  • Lives 3-4 years
  • Mates with 15-20 drones, stores their 5 million sperms in suspended animation for 3-4 years
  • Lays 1,500-2,000 eggs a day (her own body weight)
  • Worker bees feed her royal jelly – it's food in the first few days of her life that turns her into queen

Drone (male)

  • His sole purpose in life is to mate with a queen
  • After successful mating he dies a majestic death

  • A few hundred per colony

  • Develops from unfertilized eggs - genetically identical to their mother (queen)

  • Spends his days at bee mating areas (drone congregation area), waiting for a queen to show up

  • If no luck mating, he heads back to the hive to fuel up

  • Gets kicked out of the hive in the fall

Drones

Drones

Drones

Queen

What is Common in These?

What is Common in These?

Every third bite we eat is thanks to pollinators

The Birth
of a New Bee

What do you need to have a chance of forming a SUPERORGANISM?

What do you need to have a chance of forming a SUPERORGANISM?

COMMUNICATION

How Do Bees Communicate?

 

  • Nasonov pheromone ("we are here")
  • Alarm pheromone (smells like banana)
  • Queen pheromone (lack of it noticed within an hour)
  • Brood pheromone
  • Drone pheromone
  • . . .

Pheromone: a chemical substance released to change the behavior or physiology of others of the same species.

 

How Do Bees Communicate?

Dance (waggle dance)

Evolutionary Advantage

 

Cooperating Cells

 

 

Extreme Cooperation Among Honey Bees

 

 

Multi-cellular Organisms

 

Honey Bee Colony:

Superorganism

 

Colony Resembles the Behavior of
Complex Organisms

Honey Bee Colony as a Superorganism

Honey Bee Colony as a Superorganism

In the summer they carry water back to the hive to  cool it by evaporating it.

Honey Bee Colony as a Superorganism

When the CO2 level increases in the hive (1-2%), they increase ventilation.

Honey Bee Colony as a Superorganism

In case of fungal infection,
the colony fights it by colonial fever,
by increasing the hive's temperature

Honey Bee Colony as a Superorganism

Locomotion:
Colony flying as one unit during swarm

Colony Resembles the Behavior of
Complex Organisms

  • Ingests and digests food
  • Exchanges respiratory gases
  • Regulates water content
  • Controls body temperature
  • Achieves locomotion
  • Maintains nutritional balance
  • Circulates resources
  • Senses the environment
  • Decides how to behave

Swarm: Reproduction of the Superorganism

  • The queen and about half the bees leave the hive to form a daughter colony.
  • The rest of the bees stay at home and they rear a new queen.
  • The swarm hangs out for a few hours to a few days. At this time the colony holds a democratic debate to choose their new home.

The Importance of Picking a New Home

  • Too small:
    not enough space for honey (used to heat)
  • Too big or not well protected: cannot survive the cold and wind in the winter

Who Sets the Priorities
in the Colony?

The queen is the genetic mother of the hive, not the ruler or decision maker.

She has no say about when to make honey comb or where to send the worker bees to forage. The work priorities are determined by the worker bees as a community.

 

Bees don't need a boss to work.

Foragers research an area of 70 sq km (30 sq mi) and evaluate dozens of options.

 

They hold a debate about them, and after a quorum is reached, they move to their new home.

Most experienced foragers go for house hunt.

Scout bees inspect the site

  • They spend 15-60 minutes at the site
  • They return a few times, but only for shorter visits (10-20 min)
  • Between trips they advertise the location on the swarm with waggle dance
Property Preference Function
Size of entrance 12 sq cm > 75 sq cm Defense & thermoregulation
Direction of entrance South > North Thermoregulation
Height of entrance 5m > 1m Defense
Position of entrance Bottom of cavity > top of cavity ​Thermoregulation
Volume of cavity 10 l < 40 liters > 100 l Storage space for honey & ​thermoregulation
Combs in cavity Present > not present Head start

Honey Bee Nest Site Preferences

Lessons

2. Bees want to chose the best site, and they reach decisions by building consensus.

1. Bees participating in the home hunting have common interests.

3. Bees cannot stay on top of and monitor how the debate goes globally - all they can see is what’s happening right around them.  

1. People tend to have differing interests.

2. People tend to use majority voting rule: everybody has one vote, all votes have equal weight, the option that gets majority wins.

Lesson 1 for people

Hold an open competition of ideas, when making a decision based on a wide range of information spread in a team.

Lesson 2 for people 
Compose the decision-making group of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect

Specialization within colonies

  • Queen mates with 15-20 drones
  • Colony is made up of 15-20 groups of half-sisters
  • The genetic make-up of the colony gives it a chance to have a wide range of superpowers

Lesson 3 for people

Discover and use the specialized talents of your team members

Lesson 3 for people

Discover and use the specialized talents of your team members

Gama

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Niklas

Berlin, Germany

Pooja

New York, USA

Lesson 4 for people

Aggregate the group’s knowledge through debate and make good-enough decisions

Lesson 4 for people

Aggregate the group’s knowledge through debate and make good-enough decisions

Lessons for People

 

  1. Hold an open competition of ideas, when making a decision based on a wide range of information spread in a team.
  2. Compose the decision-making group of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect
  3. Discover and use the specialized talents of your team members
  4. Aggregate the group’s knowledge through debate and make good-enough decisions

Inspired by

Photo Credits

USGS Bee Inventory & Monitoring Lab:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/

Peter Moskovits

IBM, Program Director
World-wide Developer Advocacy

@pmoskovi

What Can I Do to Help Pollinators?

  1. Plant (native) flowers: mint, lavender, poppy, ...
    Grass is desert for bees
    https://www.fix.com/blog/bring-back-the-bees/
  2. Mow your lawn less regularly
  3. Stay away from pesticides, herbicides
  4. Buy local: fruits, vegetables, honey
  5. Report swarms to beekeepers

Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms - Four Lessons Humans Can Learn from Bees

By Peter Moskovits

Extreme Cooperation of Superorganisms - Four Lessons Humans Can Learn from Bees

An overview presentation about honeybees

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