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Honeybee Democracy [Kindle Edition]

Thomas D. Seeley
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Honeybees make decisions collectively--and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley's pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees.

In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together--as a swirling cloud of bees--to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution.

An impressive exploration of animal behavior, Honeybee Democracy shows that decision-making groups, whether honeybee or human, can be smarter than even the smartest individuals in them.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Entomologist E. O. Wilson calls honeybees �humanity�s greatest friend among the insects.� Cornell professor and ardent beekeeper Seeley (The Wisdom of the Hive, 1995) examines how bees make decisions on where to found a new hive. Beekeepers have known for years that overcrowded hives will swarm�the majority of the hive�s workers will take off with the old queen and move into a new home, while the remaining bees will rear a new queen in order to perpetuate the parental colony. How the homeless swarm of bees decides where to live, and the settling of the debates among the scout bees who have found potential homesites, forms the basis of this intriguing look at how social insects arrive at a consensus. Seeley takes the reader through the research process, discussing the findings of earlier scientists, the process of field research on bee swarms, and the understanding of what the resulting data means in the lives of the bees. Forager bees become scout bees who, after returning to the swarm, perform a �dance� to show where and how far away the potential site is. Other scouts check out these locations and join in the dance for whichever site is preferred. This �arguing� over the best site eventually results in all the scouts agreeing and the whole swarm then moving to its new abode. Now if we humans could only make decisions so democratically. --Nancy Bent



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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not only is the research completely sound and refreshing, the graphic representation of compelling information is truly revelatory.

If you are going to be shipwrecked on an island, even if that island has no honeybees, you should take this one book. It just seems that Thomas Seeley has compiled a most fascinating explanation of one of the bees' most curious and intelligent behaviors - and the graphic illustration and charts lend insight in clean, straight-forward, "ahh-hah" kind of ways, less understandable until now given the new, brilliant and powerfully simple conveyance.

The Epilogue should be read first because it provides the most fitting setup: Martin Lindauer observed a clustered swarm of bees on a bush and noticed that the waggle-dancing bees were covered in black soot, red brick dust and grey soil. Calling them dirty dancers, a multiple of them were obviously attempting to convince others regarding the merits of a nearby chimney. That started his research into bee group decision making, and thus, Thomas Seeley's remarkable treatise on the subject.

This would be a fascinating coffee table book, with insighful information for any curious book-flipper. For seasoned beekeepers, the photos, illustrations and information presented solidifies and exemplifies many of the things that we already know. Best example: on page 38, Figure 2.12 is a photo illustrating the underside of some house bees and shows how the wax chips are produced from the abdomens of the worker bees. I know this but had never seen it before. To see the photos is to gain much deeper understanding, and that quality of knowledge shared is represented throughout the entire book.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book filled with true passion October 18, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tom Seeley shares his 30+ years of work with honeybees to reveal how these beautiful creatures, living in dense societies, are able to make collective, speedy, and accurate decisions. This is a remarkable book that showcases both the creativity of researchers who have uncovered the secrets of bees as well as the success of one of Earth's most adaptive inhabitants. This book clearly contains lessons on how groups can make better decisions, but you don't need the lessons to appreciate and enjoy what Seeley has to say about these little marvels. I happen to like reading about the logic behind the research and some of the experiments that Seeley and others have conducted, but if that isn't for you, you can browse sections and get to the nice summaries the author provides at the end of most sections. In the end, you will see that democracy really works.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bee Inspired October 30, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is destined to be a modern classic. It is a blend of the very best science and inspired, eloquent writing. In 230 beautifully illustrated pages Seeley, a Cornell U professor, tells the complete story of a nearly perfect representational democracy. Bees have developed a decision making process that allows them to make a rational decision about a live or die choice they must make: where to make their next home. Seeley has deciphered all of the elements of this annual process and lets us in on the secrets of the bees. He is careful to show scientific verification to all of his ideas and documents the painstaking observations that back up his assertions. Before reading this book I was an admirer of the evolved social community that makes up a bee hive. Now I am in awe of these wonderful creatures. I thank Thomas D. Seeley for sharing his love and enthusiasm as well as his remarkable expertise.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, very informative July 23, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a scientist by nature and trade, though I am a geologist with no level of expertise or knowledge in regards to insects. After hearing another story about colony collapse disorder on NPR, I researched the available books on honeybees at Amazon (was surprise at how few there are) and settled on Dr. Seeley's book. Great read! I found the structure of the book well thought out, each chapter leading into subsequent chapters. Each chapter also dealt with a discrete topic and flushed out the details thoroughly. Also - I enjoyed the fact that his writing style was easily accessible for the laymen. Some books of this ilk get caught in up what level of jargon or detail to use, but Dr. Seeley found a very reasonable position on this. Being an analytical type person, I really enjoyed how each theory was tested and described. The reader will see for example the criteria bees use for siting new hives, how they test some of those criteria, and of course the main topic - how the scouts tell the colony about their searches for new homes and then how the colony reaches a consensus amongst the various choices the scouts bring back.

The reader should understand that this is not an all-encompassing book on bees, there is not much in here on hive construction or life cycles or how foragers do their thing. But there was enough on those topics for a novice like me to understand the context of what Dr. Seeley was writing about. At the end, I was not entirely convinced of using the bees "democratic" style in real life human situations. But it was good that Dr. Seeley gave real anecdotal examples from his university meetings and from New England town hall meetings to discuss it - other authors may have simply made the theoretical premise and left it at that.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars beekeeping
I just recently bought several bee keeping books along with this one. As of now I have only looked through the book just reading bits from all the chapters, based on that, I liked... Read more
Published 4 days ago by bill schrage
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative book!
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in honeybee's and/or beekeeping. It's a great addition to any collection, and filled with valuable information!
Published 1 month ago by Melissa Moorman
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly interesting read
I picked up this book with a pretty narrow goal in mind--learning the mechanics of how honeybees vote. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Stephen B. Cobb
5.0 out of 5 stars More Honeybees Needed
As a former Bee Keeper, Honeybee Democracy is excellent reading. The
Planet needs ecac and every bee. Without Honeybees we do not have food!
Published 5 months ago by stefanie simmering
5.0 out of 5 stars A very detailed text book on honey bees
This is a completely different kind of book to the usual "how to keep honey bees" book. Thomas Seeley has written a comprehensive scientific reference on the life cycle and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Bob's Beekeeping
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book for Beekeepers and Non-beekeepers
This book is a complete treatise on honey bee behavior. Honey bees are one of the most perfect socially functioning species in the world. All for one and one for all. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Kenneth
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review
Fantastic read on bees! The study conducted was very well done. A must if a bee keeper at any level. Really enjoy this book, a lot!
Published 7 months ago by Annie
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST READ!
If you are remotely interested in honey bees you must read this book. The writing is excellent, Dr. Seeley takes you through his many, many years of research as if you are right... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Armin E. Schmidt
3.0 out of 5 stars like a college textbook
too technical, I expected a more reader friendly book. It had charts and grafts and equations and mathematics and dull
Published 10 months ago by L. Humiston
5.0 out of 5 stars This was a real page turner
I found this text to bee fascinating. It was a quick read despite it's rather detailed content. I really enjoyed it as a beekeeper.
Published 11 months ago by Rene L. Sollars
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More About the Author

Dr. Thomas D. Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, where he teaches courses in animal behavior and does research on the functional organization of honey bee colonies.

He grew up in Ithaca, New York. He began keeping and studying bees while a high school student, when he brought home a swarm of bees in a wooden box. He went away to college at Dartmouth in 1970, but he returned to Ithaca each summer to work at the Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies at Cornell University, where he learned the craft of beekeeping and began probing the inner workings of the honey bee colony. Thoroughly intrigued by the smooth functioning of bee colonies, he went on to graduate school at Harvard University where he studied under two ant men (Drs. Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson), began his research on bees in earnest, and earned his Ph.D. in 1978. After teaching at Yale for six years, he worked his way home to Ithaca/Cornell in 1986, where he has been ever since. In recognition of his scientific work, he has received the Senior Scientist Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His research focuses on the internal organization of honey bee colonies and has been summarized in three books: Honeybee Ecology (1985, Princeton University Press), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995, Harvard University Press), and Honeybee Democracy (2010, Princeton University Press).


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