Synchronized Hive Ventilation: How bees Stay Cool on Hot Summer Days

Alex Wierbinski's picture

By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 10 February 2019


The Wing-Beat of Bees
When it gets hot inside the nest, bees use their wings as fans to draw hot air out and allow cooler air to move in, Video courtesy of Jacob Peters/Harvard SEAS.
When it gets hot inside the nest, bees use their wings as fans to draw hot air out and allow cooler air to move in, Video courtesy of Jacob Peters/Harvard SEAS.

Bee More Understanding

How bees stay cool on hot summer days,
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, February 8, 2019.


“When it gets hot inside the nest, a group of bees crawl to the entrance and use their wings as fans to draw hot air out and allow cooler air to move in. The question is, how do bees self-organize into these living ventilating units?”

Environmental Adaptation
The Social Solution to Physical Problems
“Over millennia, social insects such as bees have evolved to harness and exploit flows and forces and collectively solve physiological problems such as mechanical stabilization, thermoregulation and ventilation on scales much larger than the individual.”

“...bees don’t need a sophisticated recruitment or communications scheme to keep their nests cool.”

Bees Follow the Physics…
“Instead, the fanning response of individual bees to temperature variations, and the physics of fluid flow leads to their collective spatial organization, which happens to lead to an efficient cooling solution.”

Individual Bee Behavior
“...the bees clustered at the hottest areas and kept those areas, which had the highest air outflow, separate from the cooler areas with the highest air inflow. Importantly, they found that different bees had different temperature thresholds above which they would begin fanning, so that collectively they were better at responding to temperature variations.”

“Our study demonstrates how harnessing the dynamics of the physical environment allows for large-scale (ed: social!) organization of a physiological process.”

Individual-Group Dynamics
“Our theory suggests that not only does individual variability in temperature threshold lead to a more stable hive temperature but also this diversity is critical to the stability of the patterning of fanning behavior which is required for efficient ventilation.”

The Physics, “Work,” but…
“Although this is a physics-focused story, biological variation with roots in genetics and evolution likely plays a big role in order for this system to work.”

“ understand the richness of collective eco-physiology, a hallmark of life itself."



Bottom Line

2016 Research: Bee Nest Cooling

We recently discovered bee, “synchronized movements to ventilate and cool their nest,” not just with a wing-driven ventilation, but, “...with a mechanism analogous to mammalian inhalation,” with,
“...the inner bees stretch their limbs against the comb, expanding the inner nest area, lowering internal pressure to draw cool fresh air through the funnels from the ambiance. When the curtain bees relax the nest interior contracts by gravity, pressing the warm stale air from the center out diffusely through the meshwork of the bee curtain, completing the ventilation cycle.”

The bees themselves, “created,” a bellows.

The relationship between the physics of our physical environment and the individual is mediated in mammals, in large part, by the evolved construction of their internal organs and variations in their metabolisms. That would be the, “mammalian,” solution. The bees have a very different approach.

Two Roads
The bees individual-group behavioral response to the physical challenges that mammals responded to metabolically, suggests there are two fundamental evolutionary approaches, with one working, “internally,” by preserving physical organs and processes, while the other approach, “externally,” preserves complex behavioral responses to environmental changes.

And, the bees are still evolving. As we humans picked up the pieces after the meteor-destruction of our planet of Dinos, so too may the bees, “pick up the pieces,” of the human-based destruction of our planet, with a very different approach to consciousness itself.

Can the, “Hive Mind,” actually emerge, and become self-reflective, abstractly self-conscious? Not with us around…

If cockroaches, rats, and bees are fighting for dominance of a post-human Earth, I’m rooting for the bees!



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