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Forget the queen: bees and humans work together without a leader

BY Rebecca Jacobson  June 6, 2014 at 3:40 PM EDT

Queen bees have no authority. Bee colonies are complex social systems, but they work together without a leader, says entomologist Gene Robinson at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. So how do they decide who does what if no one is in charge?

Robinson and his colleagues Harry Dankowicz, mechanical engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Whitney Tabor, a psychologist from the University of Connecticut, are studying asynchronous communication to understand how humans and bees work together without direct orders — or without words.

In Robinson and Dankowicz’s experiments they tag bees with QR codes. Using high speed photography, they record their movements and watch how they interact. Meanwhile, in Tabor’s lab, humans have to work together on a task without talking to each other.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien has all the buzz on this story for the National Science Foundation’s series “Science Nation.”*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the NewsHour.