One of the purposes the honey bee genome sequencing project was to reveal the complexity of the behavior of honey bees as social insects. It was thought that we might learn from the honey bee some of the ways that behavior evolved in human beings. The results of the project, which was completed in 2006, will be studied for years to come. At the same time that honey bee behavior is being studied, psychologists, evolutionary biologists, and anthropologists are comparing the behavior of humans to our relatives from a common ancestor, the chimpanzees. The researchers describe humans’ “cooperative behavior” as opposed to chimpanzees’ “fierce aggression” as being the difference that shaped human evolution. Those who have kept or studied honey bees are aware of the complex behaviors of the bees, especially involving communication, navigation, guarding the hive, protecting from disease, preventing inbreeding, and preparing for seasonal colony events like replacing the queen, swarming, and storing honey.
I was interrupted from my reading of an interesting New York Times piece on the behavior of humans and chimpanzees, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/science/11kin.html?_r=2&hpw, when a neighbor came to tell me vandals had damaged one of my outlying bee yards. Someone had deliberately driven a truck into 10 bee hives, leaving several scattered about the ground and others balanced precariously on damaged stands. The exposed hives contained dead bees and dead, chilled brood. Unprotected, stored honey was removed from the exposed hives by robber bees. Small hive beetles, alerted by alarm pheromone from the damaged hives, flew in from great distances to take advantage of the weakened colonies. Honey bees, social insects, protect their hive with their sting. Beekeepers, social creatures as well, protect their hives by watchful neighbors, deputy sheriffs, prosecutors, laws, and jails. Honey bees confine small hive beetles that invade their hives in propolis “jails.” Eventually, the felony vandals will be caught and confined in real jails. I wonder how far our human behavior has evolved. Troglodytes should not be allowed to drive trucks.--Richard