A beehive is perhaps one of nature’s most efficient examples of collective group accomplishment.   By all appearances, it is a simple organizational structure consisting of a single queen with 10,000 workers. It seems self-evident she is in charge because the Queen is larger in size, and the birthing mother to thousands of bees. Additionally, the workers actively swarm around her; they protect her when there is danger, and when she leaves the hive they follow her. Even amongst human society we sometimes use of the term “Queen Bee” to describe an individual who is in charge. Our propensity to assume the hive is operating in a vertical model, can blind us to the surprising form of governance that actually exist inside the hive.

After a lifetime of studying bee behavior, Professor Thomas D. Seeley of Cornell University, in his book, Bee Democracy, paints a surprising picture of beehive activity and organization nearly opposite to our familiar conceptions. The “…mother queen is not the workers’ boss” he says, “Indeed, there is no all-knowing central planner supervising the thousands and thousands of worker bees in a colony.”[1] She plays a unique role, because she gives birth to more bees, but as far as decisions are concerned, Seeley says, the queen is “…merely a bystander.”[2] Unlike our zealous notions about the significance of a leader, Seeley maintains that groups actually function better “…if the power of leaders is minimized.”[3]  The crisis to survive and the collective effort of the group is more important than any single bee.

[1] Seeley, Thomas D. (2010-09-20). Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 104-105). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Seeley, Thomas D. (2010-09-20). Honeybee Democracy (Kindle Locations 3076-3077). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-secret-life-of-bees-99559587/#UHheyM4c52jChYj3.99