Thomas Seeley on honeybee communication - The Bee Hive as a Honey Factory

A presentation by Thomas Seeley where he outlines a few different communication signals used by the bees to effectively and efficiently distribute the number of bees taking on different tasks in honey making.

Here is a quick overview:

Shake signal - Tells bees in the hive that they need more foragers.

Waggle dance - Informs bee about where to find nectar

Tremble dance - Communicates a need for more bees in the hive to work at collecting and storing the nectar brought in by the foragers.

The beep signal - If bees that are Tremble dancing encounter waggle dancers they may give them the beep signal as a way of letting them know they should stop.



This paper covers research during which a large number of feral hives were dissected, described and analyzed. There is a whole lot of interesting information here. This information laid the ground work for Seeley's subsequent research on swarm behaviour. Decades later, this is still the source most people refer to for information regarding bees living on their own in tree cavities.

Some items of interest are cavity diameter and volume, comb width, as well as entrance position and size.

Original discovery of feral bees co-existing with varroa

A 2007 study by Seeley looking at the honeybee population of the feral bee population of the Arnot Forest showed a stable host - parasite relationship with the varroa mite.

An interesting part of this paper is that it describes how survivor bees co-existing with varroa were taken out of the Arnot forest and inoculated with mites from another apiary. As mite growth in inoculated colonies occurred at a level consistent with control colonies, we might guess less virulent mites have evolved in the unmanaged bee population of the Arnot forest.

The paper can be downloaded here:

An audio lecture covering the research in this paper can be heard here:

Research examining what advantages feral bees may have in the battle against varroa

In years following that paper, Seeley has spent time investigating some of the factors present in feral colonies that differ from what is typical of managed colonies.  Word is that experiments that involved spacing colonies out at a large distances from each other, thus reducing drift and robbing, and bees kept in smaller hives that swarm more often, thus experience a break in the brood cycle, have shown promising results in terms of reducing overall mite load.

Genetic analysis of the Arnot forest survivor bees

In 2015 Alexander S. Mikheyev, Mandy M.Y. Tin, Jatin Arora & Thomas D. Seeley published a study showing that the mite resistant bees living in the Arnot forest are genetically distinct from the bees in the nearby apiaries. They also compared genes of current bees with museum sample of Arnot forest bees from the 1970's. This comparison shows there was likely a genetic bottle neck, and Arnot forest bees have evolved distinct traits as compared to the bees living in the forest prior to varroa. It also suggests that some influx of some amount of new genetics has occurred in the population, including those associated with africanized bees.


Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley

Honeybee Democracy is one of my favourite bee books. The book summarizes Seeley's life long quest to understand the natural behaviour of this marvellous insect. Rather then talking about what we should do to our bees, the book focuses on what and how the bees, when left to their own devices, decide to do some of the things they do.

Seeley goes into the details of his ground breaking experiments which encompass most of what we currently know about feral hives, the communication processes involved during a swarm and the characteristics of a good bait hive. We also get some insight into Seeley's scientific process and the creative approaches used to uncover honeybee mysteries.

While I consider this a valuable read for all beekeepers, the stories describing the honeybee's sophisticated approaches to communication and decision making will also appeal to the non-beekeepers with a healthy sense of curiosity. You can find a copy on Amazon here.

The following video lecture gives a summary of the ideas discussed in the book. Watch with caution if you haven't read yet read the book. You might spoil some of the suspense.