This book is about how a colony of honey bees works as a unified whole. Attention will be concentrated on the mechanisms of group integration underlying a colony’s food-collection process, an aspect of colony functioning which has proven particularly open to experimental analysis. Everyone knows that individual bees glean nectar from flowers and transform it into delicious honey, but it is not so widely known that a colony of bees possesses a complex, highly ordered social organisation for the gathering of its food. This rich organisation reflects the special fact that in the case of honey bees natural selection acts mainly at the level of the entire colony, rather than the single bee. A colony of honey bees therefore represents a group-level unit of biological organisation. By exploring the inner workings of a colony’s foraging process, we can begin to appreciate the elegant devices that nature has evolved for integrating thousands of insects into a higher-order entity, one whose abilities far transcend those of the individual bee.
This is without doubt the best general description of the dynamics of the honey bee’s social organisation. He recreates for the reader the complex infrastructure of the nest, describing the highly specialised behaviour of workers, queens, and drones, and examines the remarkable ability of the honey bee colony to regulate its functions according to events both within and outside the nest. John B Free in his review of the volume in Science said – Masterly …. Without hesitation I recommend this book to a wide range of potential readers.”Mark L. Winston probes the dynamics of the honey bee’s social organisation. He recreates for us the complex infrastructure of the nest, describes the highly specialised behaviour of workers, queens, and drones, and examines the remarkable ability of the honey bee colony to regulate its functions according to events within and outside the nest. Mark Winston offers a comprehensive account, covering aspects of anatomy and physiology as well as systematics, ecology and behaviour …A useful overview of the biology of an insect that holds considerable interest for both economic and academic reasons. Rich in descriptive detail and well referenced, it will also serve as a basis for more detailed exploration of particular aspects of honey bee biology. – Sarah Corbet, Times Higher Education Supplement Winston’s writing is brisk and enthusiastic and the book’s illustrations clear and informative. This is a delightful study of an odd, yet oddly familiar, creature”. – John R. Alden, Wall Street Journal.
The honeybee is a wonderful example of adaptation. In this it resembles all forms of life, but because it is an extremist its adaptations are striking. The honeybee’s waggle dance, with which forager bees share information about the locations of new patches of flowers, is unsurpassed among animal communication systems in its capacity for coding precise yet flexible messages. Honeybee workers display an extraordinarily elaborate division of labor by age, switching their labor roles at least four times as they grow older. When a honeybee colony needs a new home, several hundred scout bees comb some 100 square kilometres of forest, discover a few dozen possible nest cavities, and harmoniously choose the best dwelling place through a sort of plebiscite. In winter, the thousands of honeybees in a colony form a tight, well-insulated cluster and pool their metabolic heat fuelled by about 20 kilograms of honey stores-to keep warm despite subfreezing temperatures, a method of winter survival which is unique among insects. The honeybee, then, has an extremely elaborate social life. It is therefore an unusually rewarding subject for eco-logical studies of social behaviour.