Bee colonies range in size, and most would probably agree with the thought that larger colonies produce more noise than smaller ones given the higher number of bees within.
On the other hand, researchers based out of Cornell University seem to have found just the opposite while investigating bee colonies of various sizes. They’ve published their findings in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
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Much of a bee colony’s noise emanates from the vibrations that bees send through combs to communicate with others. With that in mind, the researchers gauged this activity in various colonies of different sizes with digital accelerometers – specialized sensors capable of measuring movements like vibration.
Intriguingly, the digital accelerometers captured fewer jitters from larger colonies than smaller ones. The results left the researchers scratching their heads and scrambling to come up with an explanation.
"The surprising result was that - and at first I thought something must be wrong - when there are more bees on the comb, the vibrations are actually reduced," noted study lead author Michael Smith.
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Although no one knows for sure what's going on here, one theory behind the anomaly was that higher volumes of bees produce superior vibration damping effects that quiet things down.
The researchers tried filling the honeycombs up with dead bees and saw no improvement in vibration damping through the accelerometer data. Through this test, the researchers concluded that the bees actively reduce the vibration through their own actions – perhaps in how they grasp onto several combs at once.
“The bees are actually doing something to damp these vibrations,” Smith continued.
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The study goes to show that things aren’t always as they seem, but it also raises questions about what bees might be doing to quiet down larger colonies. Perhaps a follow-up study might answer this question indefinitely, but until then, it remains a mystery.
Source: Cornell University