We’ve seen enough “you had one job” pictures too know what happens when workers start a project on both ends and try to meet in the middle. Honeybees do this all the time when they build hives, and manage to come together, knitting their little hexagon cells quite nicely, even with the difficulty of having to work around corners and curves.
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This happens despite a number of major challenges. To begin with, multiple workers contribute to the constructions of each honeycomb, so the regularity can’t just be explained by having a single worker engage in a series of instinctual movements. In addition, nests need two different-sized honeycombs, as they use distinct sizes for workers (most of the nest) and drones (males used for reproduction). Finally, honeycombs are often built as multiple units, starting from different areas of the hive and ultimately meeting in the middle somewhere.
To find out how all these issues are managed, an animal behavior specialist (Auburn’s Michael Smith) got together with two computer scientists from Cornell: Nils Napp and Kirstin Petersen, who work on insect-like robots. Combined, they put together image-analysis software that could identify the boundaries of each cell, and they figured out the cells’ basic statistics—number of sides, length of each side, etc. These could then be classified based on whether they were the right size for workers or drones or whether there was something unusual about the cell.
What they found out was that bees start diverging from their own plans ahead of time in order to mesh with the workers coming from the other direction. This implies brain power that goes beyond instinct. Read what honeybees do to make it all come together at Ars Technica. -via Damn Interesting
(Image credit: Piscisgate)