Collective Motion: Waving Bees

Bees move in collective waves

Giant honeybees live in huge open nests. To protect themselves, they’ve developed a mesmerizing wave-like defense known as shimmering. When shimmering, the bees in a hive, beginning from a distinct spot, will flip over to expose their abdomens. Taken together, this creates large-scale patterns like those seen above.

Scientists have connected the behavior to the presence of wasps that prey on the bees. It seems that shimmering helps to repel the wasps without putting individual bees in danger. If shimmering doesn’t ward off the wasps, the bees can also use their flight muscles to heat the area around the intruder to a wasp-lethal temperature – or, individuals bees can sacrifice themselves by stinging the wasp. (Image credit: Beekeeping International, source; research credit: G. Kastberger et al.; via Gizmodo)

This post is part of our series on collective motion. Check out our previous posts about how crowds are like sand, the fluid properties of worms, and why a lack of randomness makes predicting group behaviors hard.

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