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Honeybee Democracy

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,400 ratings  ·  207 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published October 10th 2010 by Princeton University Press
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 ·  1,400 ratings  ·  207 reviews

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Petra is Darla in the book
Final review, just a paragraph of what impact this book has had on me. Reading this and Secret Lives of Ants makes me think that our view of the brain as the source of intelligence, thought and direction and that each one is particular to an individual may well be wrong. Social insects it seems share a brain, it is distributed amongst them so that they can act together but if necessary can also act alone. The power of the whole is greater than that of the individual. Much food for thought in the ...more
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
I took a side job grading SAT's and have zero time to write a review for this book. That is a real shame because this book is top notch. If you have ever been interested in the best aspects of bee behavior (similar to ant or termite behavior) read this book. You will fall in love with bees, and their decision making behavior, all over again.

I really hope I have time to revisit this book and write a proper review. The waggle dance is so much better than you can imagine. Even if you have learned
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Extremely detailed, scientific experimentation, over 50 years, discovering how honeybees choose, persuade, decide, and unanimously move to new nests when swarming. By the last chapter, the author is convincingly comparing the neurons in our brains to individual honeybees in a swarm and that a swarm in many ways acts like a thinking brain. Seeley makes a strong case that the honeybee is the most democratic of all creatures.

The one fault with this book (and why it only has three stars instead of 4
May 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
For what this is (a textbook on how bees live and thrive), it's a pretty interesting read. But I'll confess to not finishing it because a)it was due back at the library and b) I quit caring. At first it's fascinating to learn how bees do their apian thing, but then, after you've read the same thing over and over 5 million times? It gets old. Seeley could have shortened this down to one well-written, educational, intriguing booklet and it would have been a bee masterpiece. ...more
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
101st book for 2018.

Every year in Spring a large fraction of the bees in a hive will its confines and set-up shop nearby, as they actively search a new home. In this wonderful book, Seeley summarizes decades of work leading to an much better understanding how these simple creatures can collect and weigh the pros-and-cons for different potential hive locations and in the end come of an almost optimal decision for where to locate their new home.

This book is as much about the scientific process as
Dec 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021nf
5 🌟 Nonfiction>Biology
So this book is exactly as described plus a little more interesting than expected. The writing is witty and as entertaining as it can be while staying on topic ("Bees... serve as flying penises for the plants.").
The intricate dances of the bees that communicate mini maps is amazing! The dedication of Seeley to the bees is clearly deep and enduring.
I expected some lamenting about current environmental issues pertaining to bees- nope! Though this is definitely a concern the
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it
On the recommendation of a friend, picked up "Honeybee," and learned quite a bit about bees! For instance, 95% of the hive are females, who are the workers; 5% are male drones, whose main function is to mate. The queen controls gender by fertilizing an egg to create a female, or withholding sperm for a male. Queens mate (mid-air) with up to 10-12 drones in the first 2 weeks of their lives, holding the sperm in a special sac for the remainder of their 2-7 years of life. When a hive decides to swa ...more
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Caveat: I'm not sure if this book would be very interesting to a non-sciency, non-beekeeper. Not that I want to dissuade anyone, but there are a lot of details about experiments so I'd imagine hearing hive dimensions repeatedly might get tiring to someone who isn't interested in what bees consider optimal.

The good:
- SO MUCH insight into beekeeping
- A lot of fabulous detail about bee behavior and experiments
- Fascinating history tidbits (like the Yellow rain "scare")

The bad:
- It feels pretty clo
Bianca A.
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021, speed-read
Very cool and informative book about bees - the insects that "make our world go round" - written in 2010 by Cornell University's bee expert and biology professor. You will learn how the bees decide on their nesting spots and how they communicate with each other. Their behavior is much more interesting than I initially thought and can indeed be compared to a democracy. ...more
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Terrific book! This is exactly the sort of book any aspiring scientist (in particular, naturalist) would benefit from reading. It pays equal attention to scientific details as it does to accounting for how scientific thinking and experimentation in this field proceeds, and to the lived (and joyful) experience of one of its most highly skilled contributors. It's a fascinating, inspiring, and beautifully produced work of popular science. I enjoyed it thoroughly. ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful read. Although some criticize his style, I enjoyed his enthusiasm. Ascetically, it is beautiful. The cover is gorgeously designed, whilst the illustrations and pictures depicted throughout are outstanding. Most importantly, the content is gripping! As a beekeeper myself, I never fully understood the complex ballet that is swarming until I read this eloquent piece of art.This book reaffirmed my appreciation and love for honeybees. Anything which wonderfully informs the public of ...more
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As scientists we are taught that our collective work must tell a story. Here the author has finally really done just that. He ties together the published papers over his forty-year career to tell the story of how one study led to the next and what conclusions can be made of the collective body of work. His passion and reverence for the bee is clear and contagious. I learned a lot about the behavior of bee colonies and I respect them more than ever.
Tom Roth
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, zoology
Remarkable book. I'm really interested in behavioural biology, but mainly in primates, so I really doubted if I would enjoy this book. However, it is really well-written, interesting and everything is explained very well. Even if you do not really like bees, this book is really enjoyable! The book changed the way I will look at bee swarms for the rest of my life ;). ...more
Martyn Smith
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book on honeybee decision making at first appears set apart from history. Thomas Seeley puts together his ingenious experiments, published in academic articles over the course of several decades, and demonstrates exactly how honeybees select a new hive. No doubt this is what honeybees have been up to for millions of years, yet reading this book in the (hopefully) last months of the Trump administration, I felt like there was a tone in these pages that reflected the optimistic early years of ...more
This book is so interesting and compelling that readers can read it in spite of a lack of natural fascination with insects. It shows how bees are so unique and peculiar, reading this book is like encountering an alien society, from the way the bees are raised, the way they decide to swarm, the way they develop a new colony, and the way they make collective decisions via 'dance dance revolution'. Also, this book contains a funny anecdote that is revealing of our own society: the US accused the US ...more
May 20, 2020 added it
This was exactly what I wanted. Namely, a bunch of cool facts about the behaviors of social insects, and an in-depth-but-not-technical field trip to the world of bees. BECAUSE THEY'RE AMAZING. And, bonus, hanging out with a truly adorable research scientist who reminds me of all my favorite mentors.

I'm glad I came to learn about bees rather than democracy, though, because I'm still not sure what the bees do counts as democracy. To be fair, I'm not sure what we do in the U.S. counts as democracy,
Ekaterina Dolgova
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Amazing decision making abilities bees have! Well described and good parallels to the society
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Honeybee Democracy was such an interesting book! It is incredible the high intelligence and intricate behavior of honeybees! It is a shame I can only specifically recall about half of what I read in the book, but I suppose that is due to my reading it over a six month period. But I remember the generality of it, and that is that bees are awesome. Thomas Seeley's love and passion for his research is clearly evident in his book. His awe of bees shines through his writing. It is a delight to read t ...more
Alberto Simal
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It is one of the best illustrations of what scientific work is about, hard work that can only progress when fuelled by enormous doses of love for the subject matter and even greater love for knowledge. Many times, I found myself wondering about yet another mystery of the bee's behaviour, only to read a few paragraphs later about that same puzzle, tackled with exquisite ingenuity and lots, lots and lots of patience. All the experiments were fascinating, but some of them were truly
Feb 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebk
Absolutely brilliant, I didn't even have the slightest idea that Apis mellifera could have been so interesting, as I came across this book while I was study something completely different. So what we learn is that the original idea for the Star Trek's Borg come from bees and their organization shows how to maximise the useful interactions between the members of a community. Somebody should have distributed this book at the PD Congress in Italy.

Molto interessante, non avevo idea che l'apis mellif
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
I feel this is a new brand of books written by professors that is geared toward a larger audience. As a complete beginner to beekeeping, there was some good background information about how bee colonies function, as well as how they make their final decisions on where to move the swarm. The science was great. However, I felt the vast majority of the book was Seeley discussing the history of the study of bee-keeping, as well as going into excruciating detail about how he set up his scientific stu ...more
Nov 16, 2012 rated it liked it
...if there are still multiple virgin queens in nest, the workers will allow them to emerge freely. The first one out usually attempts to kill those still in their cells by dashing over the combs in search of cells containing queens, chewing small holes in their sides, and stinging the occupants...if two or more virgin queens emerge together, they will fight to the death...battling queen bees fiercely implant her venom-laden sting in her sister's abdomen...the merciless sororocide continues unti ...more
Firas Abdulhasain
Apr 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing
What do dancing, swarm intelligence, and collective decision making and direct democracy have in common?


Yes, those little creatures buzzing around to pollinate flowers and produce honey.

They are fascinating and we have A LOT to learn from them.

For example:

Did you know that bees do a wriggle dance to convince other bees of their choice for a new home?

Did you know that bees change jobs between worker, enterprising house hunter and explorer?

Did you know that the bees' decision making pro
Daniel Duarte
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic reading.
Considering that you are an animal behaviour enthusiast, that you are particularly fond of eusocial insects AND that you can ignore a few really disturbing experiments.
I failed at this last one so I gave it five stars based 'only' on the information available in the book. Lots of powerfull insights. The whole process of constructing the knowledge about the way bees make such a complex decision (deciding where to move the colony) is very interesting. Top Science!
but I can't avoi
Sep 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
This book got a full star demotion for its last chapter. For the most part, this is of the genre where scientists will write a popular account of their own career and their various experiments. I think Seely's work seems relatively uncontroversial (though I have essentially no counter-examples, so maybe this is all a bunch of hokum), so it doesn't come off as either attacking or defensive, which is often quite off-putting.

The good part of the book is that it's actually quite interesting to learn
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
How a honeybee colony swarms and finds a new home
Honeybee Democracy is an attractively presented book, from it's plain white cover with bees swirling around the title to the numerous black and white diagrams and graphs illustrating research projects and the coloured photographs studded throughout the text. But it seems undecided as to it's purpose - whether to be the story of Mr.Seeley's life and love of bees and their world, or to instead be an academic recounting of his personal experiments to
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is good, not only because bees are interesting, but because Seeley knows how to teach science well and make it interesting. His expertise is in animal especially bee behaviour, but the scientific method he uses is so fun to read. What most impressed me was the way that he conducts his experiments. For example, he would adjust the height of different potential hives, paint dots on individual bees to identify them and then observe how many of those dance, and even find the best substance ...more
Apr 10, 2021 rated it liked it
A interesting read about how intelligence can arise from simple parts and patterns. This book follows Seeley's life work as a scientist as he investigates the complexity and skill of how bees democratically choose a location for a new hive. The book is slowed by the heavy sharing of his statistics and methodology, but elevated when the lessons of bee democracy are applied to how the human mind and human societies make decisions as well. ...more
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I first heard about this book when it was mentioned after someone asked Bert Holldobler if there were lessons for humans from social insects. However this is not a book that will give you straightforward lessons but it does do a great job of explaining the history and methods of scientific enquiry relating to bee research with some emphasis on swarm decision making and dissent.
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Thomas D. Seeley is professor of biology at Cornell University and a passionate beekeeper. He is the author of The Wisdom of the Hive and Honeybee Ecology (Princeton).

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11 likes · 0 comments
“By operating without a leader the scout bees of a swarm neatly avoid one of the greatest threats to good decision making by groups: a domineering leader. Such an individual reduces a group's collective power to uncover a diverse set of possible solutions to a problem, to critically appraise these possibilities, and to winnow out all but the best one.” 4 likes
“Thus for some 4,400 years the people living in closest association with honeybees have focused on devising housing arrangements for bees that serve human purposes and have largely ignored what the bees’ themselves seek in a home.” 0 likes
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