Humans, Bees & Social Behavior

The scale and complexity of both honey bee and human societies present an important evolutionary puzzle. In every human society, people cooperate with many unrelated individuals and groups — division of labor, trade, and large-scale conflicts are common. The sick, hungry, and disabled are cared for, and social life is regulated by commonly held moral systems that are enforced, albeit imperfectly, by third-party sanctions.

In contrast, in other primate species, cooperation is limited to relatives and small groups of reciprocators. There is little division of labor or trade and no large-scale conflict. No one cares for the sick, or feeds the hungry or looks after the disabled. The strong take from the weak without fear of sanctions by third parties.

In honey bees, there is evidence of almost all of the above social interactions. Bees groom other bees to clean them of potential parasites, they feed each other, divide labor, enforce monarchy, tend to the young, fight invaders, and, in times of dearth, lose sight of morality and violently rob weaker colonies.

As with honey bees, competition between large, genetically differentiated groups led to the evolution of prosocial psychology and innate behavior. We all congregate in concentric rings of group affinity that are modulated by ritualized behavior – be that the family, the tribe or the sports team, the nation or religion — all form such rings of loyalty.

In hard times, it is standard beekeeping practice to make one strong colony of two weaker ones, since the weak have slim survival chances and are likely to be robbed. Such coalitions create a new environment where genetically unrelated honey bees will cooperate in one colony.

Human history is full of such coalitions.

When we dive into the profound analogies that humans share with honey bee society, we can better understand our own motivations.

Beeologics – working together to address the bee crisis