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Buzz Off: Bee Swarms Form Giant Brains

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New research from the University of Sheffield in the UK published in Scientific Reports suggests that individual members of a bee swarm behave like neurons in a human brain. The scientists applied a theoretical model commonly used to study human psychology to the behavior of bee colonies, and they believe that studying “bee speak” could inform us about how our own minds make decisions. In the field of psychophysics, Weber’s law describes a relationship between the size of a stimulus and noticeable increases in its magnitude. This general rule about stimulus and perception has been observed in birds, fish and even the collective behavior of simpler organisms, but not in whole clusters of tiny brains such as an insect hive. To investigate its role in the decision-making processes of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera), the researchers watched hives split apart and hunt for new homes. Among bees, the process of choosing a hive comes down to the interactions of scout bees communicating their discoveries through a visual display of body wiggles. “The study also supports the view of bee colonies as being similar to complete organisms,” says computer scientist and lead author Andreagiovanni Reina.
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