Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are: Amazing Animal Watching Vacations Part 1

School is winding down, the weather is beautiful and it is time to start thinking about summer vacation! Do you love watching and learning about animals? Then consider one (or more) of these animal watching vacations:


Go to a zoo:

Get a great view of a Siberian tiger at the Toronto Zoo.
Photo by Ber Zophus at Wikimedia.
Zoos allow you to explore the world in a single day: Meandering paths lead you past animals from across the globe. Lions, and tigers and bears, Oh my! But don’t forget the primates, reptiles, birds, and sea mammals. No matter what your animal fancy, you can likely see it at the zoo. Walk through the zoo reading the posted information on each species. Or sit at your favorite exhibit and focus on a single animal. Participate in an educational activity like touching and feeding animals with their keepers, a course, or even a sleepover. And while you are there, learn about how the zoo contributes to animal well-being: Many zoos provide research opportunities to study animal behavior and health (such as the friendship study in crested macaques), support captive breeding programs to restore threatened wild populations, rehabilitate injured or abandoned wild animals, and support habitat conservation.

If you have a local zoo, see what it has to offer. And if you like to travel, consider the San Diego Zoo, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, the Singapore Zoo, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, or the Toronto Zoo. All of these zoos are well-respected institutions that promote animal conservation and have fantastic educational programs.

Learn more about some of these zoos here.


Go to an aquarium:

Interact with dolphins at the National Aquarium.
Photo by the National Aquarium at Wikimedia.
Aquaria are places of wonder and tranquility. Learn about teleost fish, sharks, rays, crustaceans, octopuses, jellyfish, coral, and many more species that inhabit our oceans, lakes, and rivers. Relax while watching the graceful movements of sea animals and marvel at the agility of apex predators at feeding time. Learn about the many aquatic habitats our planet supports and the amazing diversity of the animals that live in them. Like zoos, aquaria provide research opportunities (such as the individual recognition study in octopuses), support conservation, and have fun educational programs and activities.

If you get a chance, you may want to check out the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Georgia Aquarium, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA) in Perth or L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, Spain.


Learn more about some of these aquariums here and here.



Take a wildlife tour:

See breathtaking animals in their natural habitat
from the security of your guide's vehicle.
Photo by Brian Snelson at Wikimedia.
If you want to see wild animals in their natural habitats, experienced guides can help you find animals that are often elusive while keeping you safe and preserving animal habitats. Guides can give detailed information about the animals you encounter and can often tell thrilling tales of their own personal experiences. Some even provide lunch.

Maybe your dream has always been to go on an African safari. Consider the Safari Serengeti trip in Tanzania by Overseas Adventure Travel, where you can see animals like Thomson’s gazelles, buffalo, and elephants. Or participate in a North American safari in Yellowstone National Park with Wolf & Bear Safaris by the Yellowstone Safari Company. If a Northwoods flavor suits you, check out Northwoods Outfitters Moose Wildlife Safari in Maine. Or take a Hawaiian vacation and go whale watching with Ultimate Whale Watch in Maui. For a scientific marine vacation, go on an Educational Shark Encounter trip with Fish Finder Adventures based in Ocean City, Maryland. Whatever your dream animal watching trip, a guide can help you bring it to life.


Go somewhere wild on your own:

Kayak by thousands of birds in the Everglades
(but don't forget your anti-bird-poop-hat).
Photo by Matt Magolan.
If you are an independently minded and experienced adventurer, the world is awaiting. And if you want to increase your chances of observing spectacular wild animals in nature, you should go somewhere that has a lot of spectacular wild animals… like Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica, where you can see four monkey species, two iguana species, two sloth species, coatis, toucans, vultures, parakeets, and hundreds of other species on a single hike. Or kayak in the Everglades National Park in Florida, where you can see crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and over 350 species of birds. Or SCUBA or snorkel the coral reefs of the Cayman Islands and feel like part of the community of coral, sponges, tropical fish, rays, sharks, and sea turtles.

Learn more about some of these trips here.


We share this world with countless amazing animals. Find your own way to experience, learn about and appreciate them. I’ll go into more detail on these vacations and others in future posts, so comment below and let us know what animal watching vacations you have done and what you are interested in doing in the future.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Snakes Deceive to Get a Little Snuggle

A lone red-sided garter snake.
Photo by Tracy Langkilde.
The red-sided garter snake is a small snake species with the largest and most northern distribution of all reptiles in North America. These northern ranges can get quite cold for any animal, let alone a reptile. Like most reptiles, they are ectotherms, meaning they regulate their body temperature largely by exchanging heat with their environment. If an animal gets almost all of its body heat from a cold environment, its body is also going to be cold… So what is a poor red-sided garter snake to do?

Red-sided garter snakes that live in the northern end of their range in Manitoba, Canada spend their cold-season (6-8 months of it) hibernating in underground dens called hibernacula. Tens of thousands of snakes may share a winter den and every spring, they emerge to mate and eat and do all the other fun things that snakes do when they’re awake. (If you would like to witness the spectacular sight that is the emergence of the garter snakes, it is occurring this month in the world-famous snake-watching Interlake region of Manitoba).

A whole lotta red-sided garter snakes in a spring-mating
frenzy. Photo by Tracy Langkilde.
When a snake first emerges from its groggy hibernation state its body is cold and movements are sluggish, which puts it at a high risk of predation from animals like crows and weasels. Females are generally at less risk of predation at this time because emergence-time is also sexy-time for this species and females generally find themselves in the middle of a writhing ball of already-warmed-up male suitors (appropriately called a mating ball). For the female, this both increases her body temperature faster (which will allow her to move faster sooner) and provides any would-be predators with many other snakes to choose from.

Female red-sided garter snakes produce a male-attracting pheromone (a chemical released by an animal that affects the physiology and/or behavior of other individuals of the same species). Researchers Rocky Parker and Robert Mason at Oregon State University found that the amount of pheromone females produce increases as the females hibernate from fall to spring. This pheromone is a blend of saturated and unsaturated methyl ketones (molecules responsible for many natural odors and flavors) and males are more strongly attracted to the unsaturated components. The chemical composition of the female pheromone also changes from fall to spring, such that female spring pheromones are dominated by these highly attractive unsaturated pheromone components. Presumably, the sexier the pheromone, the more suitors are attracted and the more benefits a recently-emerged female can acquire.

It seems that this smell-sexy-and-create-mating-ball strategy is a useful solution for recently-emerged females, but what about recently-emerged males? Parker and Mason collected courting male red-sided garter snakes and brought them into the lab. Then they either implanted them with estrogen (a sex hormone strongly involved in female sexual physiology and behavior) or did not (as a control group). Males with estrogen implants produced more pheromones, had higher ratios of unsaturated pheromone components to saturated pheromone components, and were more attractive to courting males. When the researchers removed the estrogen implants from some of the males, they became less attractive again. So in the lab, estrogen treatment of males makes them produce more female-like pheromones that other courting males respond to. This shows that males are capable of using this smell-sexy-and-create-mating-ball strategy, but do they use it in nature?

This graph shows the amount of courtship
received by females, "she-males", and "he-males"
when either cold or hot. Figure from Shine,
Langkilde and Mason's Behavioral Ecology
and Sociobiology Paper (2012).
Robert Mason at Oregon State University and Rick Shine and Tracy Langkilde at the University of Sydney, Australia collaborated to explore this relationship between temperature and male production of female-like pheromones. It turns out, male red-sided garter snakes in nature can and do produce female-like pheromones when they emerge from their den. Shine, Langkilde and Mason collected some of these males that were being courted by other males (the researchers refer to them as “she-males”). They also collected some males that were courting females (they called them “he-males”) and some females. They then exposed the snakes to different temperatures for 15-minute intervals and tested their attractiveness to other courting males. 
This graph shows the amount of courtship received
by "she-males" when cooled (open circles) and
heated (filled circles) for 15-minute intervals.
Figure from Shine, Langkilde and Mason's Behavioral
Ecology and Sociobiology Paper (2012).


 The researchers found that females were courted the most, “he-males” the least, and “she-males” were courted an intermediate amount. Interestingly, “she-males” only attracted courtship when they were cold (and their chances of survival could be improved by a mating ball) and their attractiveness shifted with every 15-minute shift in temperatures. How did they do this? 15 minutes is probably not enough time for a hormonal change to alter the pheromone composition enough to change attractiveness so drastically.

An important clue comes from the composition of the pheromones themselves. Remember that red-sided garter snake pheromones are a blend of saturated and unsaturated methyl ketones and males are more strongly attracted to pheromones that have a high ratio of unsaturated components to saturated components. Well, saturated and unsaturated fats respond differently to cold: Unsaturated fats (like cooking oil) remain a liquid at cooler temperatures, whereas saturated fats (like margarine) become solid. Solids are less volatile than liquids, which makes them not smell as much. Shine, Langkilde and Mason hypothesize that the ratio of unsaturated to saturated ketones is lower in “she-males” than in females. In the cold, the high amount of saturated components of the “she-male” pheromone is turned off, which raises the ratio of unsaturated to saturated ketones, making them attractive. As the snake warms up, the saturated components of the “she-male” pheromone is turned on, which lowers the ratio of unsaturated to saturated ketones, making them unattractive.

Remarkably, male red-sided garter snakes can change their pheromones to mimic or not mimic females in response to brief changes in temperature. How cool is that?

Want to know more? Check these out:


1. Shine, R., Langkilde, T., & Mason, R. (2012). Facultative pheromonal mimicry in snakes: “she-males” attract courtship only when it is useful Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 66 (5), 691-695 DOI: 10.1007/s00265-012-1317-4

2. Parker, M., & Mason, R. (2012). How to make a sexy snake: estrogen activation of female sex pheromone in male red-sided garter snakes Journal of Experimental Biology, 215 (5), 723-730 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.064923

3. Parker, M., & Mason, R. (2009). Low Temperature Dormancy Affects the Quantity and Quality of the Female Sexual Attractiveness Pheromone in Red-sided Garter Snakes Journal of Chemical Ecology, 35 (10), 1234-1241 DOI: 10.1007/s10886-009-9699-0

4. For an awesome blog about social snakes from a researcher’s perspective, go to http://blog.socialsnakes.org/ (or http://www.public.asu.edu/~mamarell/ for more information)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Does Social Status Change Brains?

Photo by The Grappling Source Inc.
at Wikimedia Commons
Being subordinated is stressful. The process of one individual lowering the social rank of another often involves physical aggression, aggressive displays, and exclusion. In addition to the obvious possible costs of being subordinated (like getting beat up), subordinated individuals often undergo physiological changes to their hormonal systems and brains. Sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it? But what if some of those changes are beneficial in some ways?

Dominance hierarchies are a fact of life across the animal kingdom. In a social group, everyone can’t be dominant (otherwise, life would always be like an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, and what could possibly be more stressful than that?). Living in a social group is more peaceful and nutritive when a clear dominance hierarchy is established.

Establishing that hierarchy often involves a relatively short aggressive phase of jostling for position, followed by a longer more stable phase once everyone knows where they fall in the social group. Established dominance hierarchies are not always stable (they can change over time or from moment to moment) and they are not always linear (for example, Ben can be dominant over Chris, who is dominant over David, who is dominant over Ben). But they do generally help reduce conflict and the risk of physical injury overall.

Nonetheless, it can be stressful to be on the subordinate end of a dominance hierarchy and these social interactions are known to cause physiological changes. Researchers Christina Sørensen and Göran Nilsson from the University of Oslo, Cliff Summers from the University of South Dakota and Øyvind Øverli from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences investigated some of these physiological differences among isolated, dominant, and subordinate rainbow trout.



A photo of a rainbow trout by Ken Hammond at the USDA.
Photo at Wikimedia Commons.
Like other salmonid fish, rainbow trout are aggressive, territorial and develop social hierarchies as juveniles. Dominant trout tend to initiate most of the aggressive acts, hog food resources, grow larger, and reproduce the most, whereas subordinate trout display less aggression, feeding, growth, and reproduction. The researchers recorded the behavior, feeding and growth rates in three groups of fish: trout housed alone, trout housed with a more subordinate trout, and trout housed with a more dominant trout. The researchers also measured cortisol (a hormone involved in stress responses), serotonin (a neurotransmitter involved in mood, the perception of food availability, and the perception of social rank, among other things) and the development of new neurons (called neurogenesis) in these same fish.

video
This video of two juvenile rainbow trout was taken by Dr. Erik Höglund. Here is Christina Sørensen’s description of the video: “What you see in the film is two juvenile rainbow trout who have been housed on each side of a dividing wall in a small aquarium. The dividing wall has been removed (for the first time) immediately before filming. You will see that the fish initially show interest for each other, followed by a typical display behaviour, where they circle each other. Finally one of the fish will initiate aggression by biting the other. First the aggression is bidirectional, as they fight for dominance, but after a while, one of the fish withdraws from further aggression and shows only submissive behaviour (escaping from the dominant and in the long run trying to hide... and as is described in the paper, depressed feed intake). The video has been cut to show in quick succession these four stages of development of the dominance hierarchy”.

The researchers found that as expected, the dominant trout were aggressive when a pair was first placed together, but the aggression subsided after about 3 days. Also as expected, the dominant and isolated trout were bold feeders with low cortisol levels and high growth rates, whereas the subordinate trout did not feed as well, had high cortisol levels and low growth rates. Additionally, the subordinate trout had higher serotonin activity levels and less neurogenesis than the dominant or isolated trout. These results suggest that the subordination experience causes significant changes to trout brain development (Although we can’t rule out the possibility that fish with more serotonin and less neurogenesis are predisposed to be subordinate). In either case, this sounds like bad news for subordinate brains, right? Maybe it is. Or maybe the decrease in neurogenesis just reflects the decrease in overall growth rates (smaller bodies need smaller brains). Or maybe something about the development of these subordinate brains improves the chances that these individuals will survive and reproduce in their subordination.


A crayfish raising its claws. Image by Duloup at Wikimedia.
Research on dominance in crayfish by Fadi Issa, Joanne Drummond, and Don Edwards at Georgia State University and Daniel Cattaert at the University of Bordeaux helps shed light on this third possibility. Crayfish (which are actually not fish at all, but are freshwater crustaceans that look like small lobsters) form long-lasting and stable social hierarchies. If you poke a crayfish in the side, an isolated or dominant crayfish will turn towards whatever poked it and raise its posture and claws to confront it; A subordinate crayfish will do one of two maneuvers that involves lowering the posture and backing away from whatever poked it. Furthermore, dominant and subordinate crayfish have different neuronal activity patterns in response to being poked, and part of this difference involves differences in the activity of serotonergic neurons.

It appears that the brains of dominant and subordinate individuals function differently and part of this difference involves serotonin. This may help dominant animals to continue to behave in a dominant fashion and subordinate individuals to continue to behave in a subordinate fashion, thereby preserving the peace for the whole social group.

Want to know more? Check these out:

1. Sørensen, C., Nilsson, G., Summers, C., & Øverli, �. (2012). Social stress reduces forebrain cell proliferation in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) Behavioural Brain Research, 227 (2), 311-318 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2011.01.041

2. Issa, F., Drummond, J., Cattaert, D., & Edwards, D. (2012). Neural Circuit Reconfiguration by Social Status Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (16), 5638-5645 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5668-11.2012

3. Yeh, S., Fricke, R., & Edwards, D. (1996). The Effect of Social Experience on Serotonergic Modulation of the Escape Circuit of Crayfish Science, 271 (5247), 366-369 DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5247.366

4. Issa, F., & Edwards, D. (2006). Ritualized Submission and the Reduction of Aggression in an Invertebrate Current Biology, 16 (22), 2217-2221 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.08.065

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Using Science to Train your Pets, Family Members and Friends

If we can train dogs to jump through hoops of
fire,can't we also train our roommates to do the
dishes? Photo by Keith Moseley at Wikimedia.
Living in a social world is difficult. Each individual in the group has his or her own needs, wants and goals and they rarely match what YOU need and want. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone just did what YOU wanted them to do? Imagine a world where your pets sit peacefully at your feet (that is, when they’re not fetching you a cold drink), your brother and sister generously share everything with you, and your best friend spontaneously cleans your room. Is it possible to create such a world? We can certainly try!

The field of psychology provides us with some very useful theoretical tools for shaping the behavior of those around us. Two of them, operant conditioning and classical conditioning, have long been used by animal trainers and science has shown them to be very effective.

Operant conditioning is a learning process in which an animal learns to associate a behavior with a consequence. There are four possible consequences to any behavior:
1) Something good can start or appear
2) Something bad can start or appear
3) Something good can stop or disappear
4) Something bad can stop or disappear

If a consequence immediately and (relatively) consistently follows a specific behavior, the animal will learn to associate the behavior with the consequence and change how frequently it produces the behavior. For example, if you give your dog a treat every time you say “sit” and he sits, he will be more likely to sit whenever you say “sit”. Likewise, if you spray your cat with water every time she jumps on the counter, she will be less likely to jump on the counter when you and the spray bottle are around.

B.F. Skinner, a psychologist at Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s, invented an operant conditioning chamber (also called a Skinner Box), which he used to discover that the predictability with which a consequence is paired with a behavior can influence how quickly an animal learns and how long the training lasts. This is called the schedule of reinforcement. Generally, the more consistently the consequence is paired with the behavior, the faster the animal learns. However, once learned, the consequence can be paired with the behavior very rarely and still maintain the behavior (for example, many slot machine gamblers can play for hours even if they win very rarely).

You can watch a video of Skinner discussing his research here:


For operant conditioning to work, the consequence needs to happen immediately after the behavior. This isn’t always possible. How would a dolphin trainer teach a dolphin to jump through a hoop if she had to give the dolphin a treat right after each jump? In this case, classical conditioning is a helpful tool.

Classical conditioning is a learning process in which an animal learns to associate two stimuli: an unconditioned stimulus that naturally causes the animal to respond and a conditioned stimulus which previously did not elicit a response. Classical conditioning (also called Pavlovian conditioning) is most often associated with Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist and Nobel laureate for his research on digestion. In Pavlov’s famous example of a classical conditioning experiment, he gave a dog a food treat (meat powder) and measured how much the dog salivated. Salivating is a natural response to the food, so in this case, food is an unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov then began to ring a bell immediately before giving the dog the treat. Over time, the dog learns to associate the ringing bell with the treat and will salivate in response to the bell alone. At this point, the ringing bell is the conditioned stimulus.

So how do we put these two theories together to train an animal to show a complex behavior? Generally, simple behaviors are trained by waiting for the behavior to occur and then rewarding it, with something the animal finds naturally rewarding if possible. If that is not possible, a conditioned stimulus can be used by immediately pairing it with the natural reward. This video shows someone training a goldfish to go through a hoop. Notice the timing with which the trainer provides the conditioned reward (the light) and the unconditioned reward (the food).


Once an animal is trained to do a simple behavior, you can build on these behaviors to make them increasingly complex.


Now you can be creative with how you use this knowledge. Train your dog to “read” flash cards. Train your roommate to do the dishes. The possibilities are endless.


Be patient. Training takes time. And remember, the more consistent you are with your rewards, the faster learning and training will happen.


Want to know more? Check these out:

1. Nargeot, R., & Simmers, J. (2010). Neural mechanisms of operant conditioning and learning-induced behavioral plasticity in Aplysia Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 68 (5), 803-816 DOI: 10.1007/s00018-010-0570-9

2. Balsam, P., Sanchez-Castillo, H., Taylor, K., Van Volkinburg, H., & Ward, R. (2009). Timing and anticipation: conceptual and methodological approaches European Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (9), 1749-1755 DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.06967.x

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why This Horde of Idiots is No Genius

At first look (in Part 1 of this post), swarm theory seems to predict that the larger the social group, the better the resulting group decisions and behaviors. Then, with over 300 million of us in the U.S., shouldn’t we only be making brilliant decisions? And with over 7 billion worldwide, shouldn’t we have already prevented all international conflicts, cancer, and environmental destruction? And why the heck is Snooki still everywhere we look?!

A riot in Vancouver, Canada after the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup
in 2011 left the city with scars. Photo by Elopde at Wikimedia Commons.

Many large groups of people make incredibly stupid decisions. Like proverbial lemmings (a hoax perpetuated by Disney), large groups of people have caused incredible damage to their community after their hockey team lost the Stanley Cup, quit their jobs and given away all of their possessions believing the end of the world was coming on May 21, 2011 (ehem… we’re still here), and insisted that wearing baggy pants around the thighs is a reasonable thing to do even though it is not sexy and it trips you when you try to run. Where are we going wrong?

Tom Seeley at Cornell University has gained tremendous insight into effective group decision-making from his years observing honeybees, which he shares with us in his book, Honeybee Democracy. (By the way, this is also one of the best books out there for painting a picture of the life of a behavioral biologist).

Honeybees live in swarms of thousands. When the hive becomes overcrowded, about a third of the worker bees will stay home to rear a new queen while the old queen and the rest of the hive will leave to begin the process of finding a new home. During this time, the migrants will coalesce on a nearby branch while they search out and decide among new home options. This process can take anywhere from hours to days during which the colony is vulnerable and exposed. But they can’t be too hasty: choosing a new home that is too small or too exposed could be equally deadly.

This homeless honeybee swarm found an unconventional "branch". They'd better
decide on a new home before the cyclist gets back!  Photo by Nino Barbieri at Wikimedia.

Although each swarm has a queen, she plays no role in making this life-or-death decision. Rather, this decision is made by a consensus among 300-500 scout bees that results after an intense “dance-debate”. Then, as a single united swarm, they leave their branch and move into their new home. At this point, it’s critical that the swarm is unified in their choice of home site, because a split-decision runs the risk of creating a chaos in which the one and only queen can be lost and the entire hive will perish. This is a high-stakes decision that honeybees make democratically, efficiently, and amazingly, they almost always make the best possible choice! How do they do that? And how can we do that?


Each dot represents where on the body this dancer
was head-bumped by a dancer for a competing site.
Each time she's bumped, she's a little less
enthusiastic about her own dance. Figure from
Seeley, et al. 2012 paper in Science.
The honeybee house-hunting process has several features that allow them as a group to hone in on the best possible solution. The process begins when a scout discovers a site that has potential for a new home. She returns to her swarm and reports on this site, using a waggle dance that encodes the direction and distance to the site and her estimate of its quality. The longer she dances, the better she perceived the site to be. Other scouts do the same, perhaps visiting the same site or maybe a new one, and they report their findings in dance when they return. More scouts are recruited and the swarm breaks into a dancing frenzy, with many scouts dancing for multiple possible sites. Over time, scouts that are less enthusiastic about their discovered site stop dancing, in part discouraged by dancers for other sites that head-bump them while beeping. Eventually, the dancing scouts are unified in their dance for what is almost always the best site. The swarm warms up their flight muscles, and off they go, in unison to their new home.

What can we learn from this process? Tom has summarized his wisdom gained from observing honeybees in the following:

Tom Seeley’s Five Habits of Highly Effective Hives

1. “Group members share a goal”.
This is easy for honeybees, but not as much for us. All of the honeybees in a swarm share the same goal: Find the best possible home as quickly as possible. People are not always similar in our goals, needs and wants and one person’s goals are sometimes in direct conflict with another person’s goals. The trick here is finding common ground.

2. “Group members search broadly to find possible solutions to the problem”.
Seek out information from as many sources as you can. Be creative. Use your personal experience. And if the group is diverse, there will be a broader range of personal experience to harness. Diversity increases the ability of a group to make the best decisions.

3. “Group members contribute their information freely and honestly”.
This requires a welcoming and supportive environment that withholds judgment of the individuals for the ideas expressed. You don’t have to agree with an idea to respect and listen to the person expressing it.

4. “Group members evaluate the options independently and they vote independently”.
Just as scout bees don’t dance for a site they have not visited and assessed themselves, we should not advocate possible solutions or candidates that we have not ourselves looked into and thought critically about. A group can only be smarter than the individuals in it if the individuals think for themselves.

5. “Group members aggregate their votes fairly”.
Everyone gets a vote and each one counts equally. ‘Nuff said.

We can learn a lot from these honeybees. Even when the stakes are high, we can make good decisions for our group if we are open, honest, inclusive, fair and think independently.


Want to know more? Check these out:

1. Seeley, T., Visscher, P., Schlegel, T., Hogan, P., Franks, N., & Marshall, J. (2011). Stop Signals Provide Cross Inhibition in Collective Decision-Making by Honeybee Swarms Science, 335 (6064), 108-111 DOI: 10.1126/science.1210361

2. List, C., Elsholtz, C., & Seeley, T. (2009). Independence and interdependence in collective decision making: an agent-based model of nest-site choice by honeybee swarms Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364 (1518), 755-762 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0277

3. Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley

4. The Smart Swarm by Peter Miller

5. The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki