Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 395–406 | Cite as

How does a swarm of the giant Asian honeybee Apis dorsata reach consensus? A study of the individual behaviour of scout bees

  • J. C. Makinson
  • T. M. Schaerf
  • A. Rattanawannee
  • B. P. Oldroyd
  • M. BeekmanEmail author
Research Article


The last few years have seen a renewed interest in the mechanisms behind nest-site selection in honeybees. Most studies have focused on the cavity-nesting honeybee Apis mellifera, but more recently studies have included the open-nesting A. florea. Amongst species comparisons are important if we want to understand how the process has been adapted over evolutionary time to suit the particular species’ nest-site requirement. Here, we describe the behaviour of scout bees of the giant Asian honeybee A. dorsata on three artificially created swarms to determine the mechanisms used to collectively decide on a location to move to, either in the same environment (nest-site selection) or somewhere further afield (migration). In all swarms, scouts’ dances converged on a general direction prior to lift-off and this direction corresponded to the direction that swarms flew. Scouts from one swarm danced for sites that were far away. These dances did not converge onto a specific distance, implying they were migration dances. Dances for different sites differed in the number of circuits per dance suggesting that A. dorsata scouts make an assessment of site quality. Similarly to A. florea, but in contrast to A. mellifera, A. dorsata scouts did not reduce dance duration after repeated returns from scouting flights. We found that many scouts that dance for a non-preferred location changed dance location during the decision-making process after following dances for the consensus direction. We conclude that the consensus-building process of A. dorsata swarms relies on the interaction of scout bees on the swarm.


Collective decision-making Migration Swarming Giant honeybee Individual behaviour Apis dorsata 



Funding for this project was provided by the Australia-Asia Endeavour Award program (to JCM) and the Australian Research Council (to BPO and MB via DP0878924, DP0984731, MB via FT120100120 and TMS via DP130101670). We thank Dr. Ratna Thapa for providing lab space at Mae Fah Luang University for the duration of this experiment and Professor Siriwat Wongsiri for acting as host. We would also like to thank the Abbot of Wat Pa Mark Nor for allowing us to perform fieldwork on the temple grounds. Tom Seeley and James Marshall provided constructive comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Lab, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of ScienceThe University of SydneyNew South WalesAustralia
  2. 2.Bee Sensory and Behavioural Ecology Lab, School of Biological and Chemical SciencesQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Animal Behaviour Lab,School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of ScienceThe University of SydneyNew South WalesAustralia
  4. 4.School of Science and TechnologyUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  5. 5.Department of BiologyChulalongkorn UniversityBangkokThailand
  6. 6.Department of Entomology, Faculty of AgricultureKasetsart UniversityBangkokThailand

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