Study: Bigger honeybee colonies have quieter combs | Cornell Chronicle

Study: Bigger honeybee colonies have quieter combs | Cornell Chronicle

When honeybee colonies get larger, common sense suggests it would be noisier with more bees buzzing around.

But a study recently published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology reports that bigger honeybee colonies actually have quieter combs than smaller ones.

“The surprising result was that – and at first I thought something
must be wrong – when there are more bees on the comb, the vibrations are
actually reduced,” said Michael Smith, a doctoral student in
neurobiology and behavior and the paper’s lead author. Po-Cheng Chen,
Ph.D. ’16, a former doctoral student in the field of electrical and
computer engineering, is a co-author of the paper.

The researchers found the bees actively damp vibrations in the comb,
possibly by the way they grasp the combs, though more study is needed to
verify the mechanism.

The finding is important because bees communicate with substrate
vibrations in the comb. Bees perform a waggle dance to communicate to
other bees the exact location of a patch of flowers; the dance vibrates
the comb to spread the message to other bees. Even queen bees transmit
vibrational signals to communicate with other queens. But in order to
convey these messages, or any message, one must eliminate noise.

The study underlines the universal need to separate signals from
noise in all biological systems – from unicellular organisms sensing
their environment to human bodies trying to sense hormone
concentrations, Smith said.