Thomas D. Seeley, biologist and writer, is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. He teaches courses on animal behavior and does research on the behavior, social life, and ecology of honey bees. Tom is an avid beekeeper and began keeping bees while a high school student, when he shook a swarm into a box and brought it home. His scientific work is summarized in four books: Honeybee Ecology (1985), The Wisdom of the Hive (1995), Honeybee Democracy (2010), and Following the Wild Bees (2016). In recognition of his scientific contributions, he has been honored by an Alexander von Humboldt Distinguished U.S. Scientist Award, awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He writes: “These awards are gratifying, but for me the most important prizes by far are the discoveries that I have made about the inner workings of honey bee colonies.”

 

Following the Wild Bees: The craft and science of bee hunting

In this talk, we look at bee hunting—locating wild colonies of honey bees—which is one of the most fascinating games in the world. We will review the equipment involved and the process of establishing and following beelines, which are lines of bees flying back to their secret homes. This outdoor activity is one of infinite variety, of suspense, disappointment, perseverance, and triumph.   You go out into the fields. Before you rises a hillside with ten thousand trees. One of those trees is a bee tree. With simple equipment, and special skills, you can find it! For this talk, I draw heavily on material described in my latest book, Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting.

The Bee Colony as a Honey Factory

We will explore how a colony of honey bees operates as an factory that produces honey efficiently despite tremendous day-to-day swings in the supply of nectar, the raw material for making honey. An important feature of the organization of the honey production process is a division of labor between the nectar foragers, elderly workers who toil outside the hive collecting the nectar, and the nectar receivers, middle-age workers who toil inside the hive converting the nectar into honey.  We will see how the bees can boost their colony’s rate of nectar collecting during a honey flow, using the waggle dance and the shaking signal. And we will see how the bees can also boost their colony’s rate of nectar processing—to keep the rates of nectar collecting and nectar processing in balance—by means of the tremble dance and stop signal.  For this talk, I will draw heavily on material reported in my book The Wisdom of the Hive, and I will show videos of bees producing all the signals mentioned above:  waggle dance, shaking signal, tremble dance, and stop signal.