Honey Bee and Human Social Life Are Surprisingly Similar, Researchers Say

Finding such similarities could spark interest in discovering universal principles of biology.
Derya Ozdemir
An image showing the bee that were barcoded to be easily distinguished.Tim Gernat, University of Illinois

In an interesting turn of events, researchers have detected an unexpected and very interesting similarity between honey bee and human social life and the lack of it.

Honey bee's social network

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers had been keeping a close eye on the honey bees with previous research for some time. Now, in their most recent study, they measured the social networks of honey bees and how they develop over time, Phys.org reported.

The researchers noticed some detailed similarities with the social networks of humans. Moreover, these similarities were fully explained by new theoretical modeling, which adapts the tools of statistical physics for biology.

The theory, confirmed in experiments, implies that there are individual differences between honey bees, just as there are between humans.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.


The duration of social interactions

In their previous work, the researchers had questioned how long bees spend between events where they meet other bees. "We showed that they interact in a non-uniform way," said Swanlund Chair of physics Nigel Goldenfeld, who is one of the researchers. They looked at the same data set, but asked "What about the duration of interaction events, not the time between interactions?"

The researchers saw that the time spent in individual interactions varied from short interactions to long ones. They found that there was a clear difference in the time amount each bee would spend with another bee during different events such as food transfer, per Phys.org.

While some bees spent a long time with another individual, some other bees would turn away or move on to interacting with another one. The researchers saw similarities in the way that humans more commonly prefer to interact with friends or family members rather than complete strangers.

While genetically related bees had fewer individual differences than found within human families -- the researchers found that there was some individuality, indeed.

Swanlund Chair of Entomology Gene E. Robinson, one of the researchers, stated, "Finding such striking similarities between bees and humans spark interest in discovering universal principles of biology, and the mechanisms that underlie them."

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