Swarm guidance in Apis florea: making decisions on the fly?

Mary Myerscough (March 16, 2011)

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Nest site selection and swarm guidance in swarms of Apis mellifera are well studied, both observationally and theoretically, but not nearly so much is known about decision-making behaviour in other species of Apis. The Asian red dwarf honey bee, Apis florea, is an open-nesting honey bee, found in Southeast Asia, India and parts of the Middle East whose nest is a single comb in the midst of a cluster of bees formed around a small, shaded branch. As in A. mellifera, scouts go out from an A. florea colony that is looking for a new home and seek out suitable nest sites. They then return and dance to indicate the location of suitable new nest sites, but their dances are more variable and less intense than those of Apis mellifera and several sites may still be being advertised when the swarm takes off. In A. mellifera, scouts, who are informed about the location of the new nest site guide the swarm to their destination by flying rapidly through the swarm in the direction that the swarm needs to travel. In A. florea it is possible that different groups of scouts are directing the swarm in different directions. Using both observations and models that have been particularly devised for flying bees which have constantly changing speed, we will examine the process of swarm guidance in A. florea and explore what happens in a migrating swarm when different groups of scouts direct the swarm to different nest sites.