ABS 2022
Honey Bees Shift Their Nest Building Techniques to Compensate for Repeated Structural Disruption
Peter R. Marting1, Ben Koger2, Michael L. Smith1. 1Auburn University, Auburn, AL, United States; 2University of Konstanz, Konstanz, , Germany

Many animals build shelters to nest in, and among the most astounding animal architects are the eusocial insects. How honey bees structure and organize their nest in 3 dimensions during the critical early stages after swarming may impact colony performance and survival. By rearranging the nest, we can evaluate the impact that nest structure and growth have on colony performance. Colonies built comb on removable wooden frames which we used to rearrange the frames randomly within the hive box each week for 6 weeks, which disorganized the 3D structure of the existing comb (“shuffled” colonies). Surprisingly, shuffled and control colonies did not differ in any colony-level performance metrics we measured, but did differ in how individual combs grew over time within the nest. Control colonies built new comb on all leading edges relatively evenly, while shuffled colonies rapidly expanded some combs but abandoned others, focusing new comb growth on areas that would create the largest contiguous nest fragment. Honey bees can rapidly shift their nest construction paradigm at no measured cost to colony-level performance; an intriguing example of resilience provided by the superorganism.