U.S. Senators, listen up here. According to Professor Tom Seeley, an entomologist at Cornell University, a hive will send a few hundred “scouts” into a back yard, or into the woods, to find a good nest site. If a particular scout thinks that an elm tree — that one over there — is the best place to build a hive, she will say so, by dancing. Her dance will tell the other bees where to find that special tree …

If she feels really strongly, she will dance with extra energy, for a longer time.

Even if most of the other bees have chosen a different tree, they won’t stop her dance, or tell her to be quiet. Or have three-fifths of them invoke “cloture,” a fancy way of saying “shut up.” They will wait her out.

Then something astonishing happens. I’ve written about it before, but I want to mention it again, now that our Senators are mulling their next filibuster, because what bees do makes democracy much, much easier — or so it seems.

Different scouts will dance for their different trees. Gradually, a favorite emerges. But what if a particular bee is totally convinced that the tree she has found is so superior that she just keeps dancing and dancing, and won’t stop? How does the hive handle a stubborn bee?

The Jimmy Stewart Bee

“We haven’t seen any bees like that,” Professor Seeley said. None? None, he told me. “In the world of scout bees, you don’t have die-hard bees that just dance and dance and dance forever.” Why not?

Because, he said, even if a bee feels very, very strongly about her choice and has danced feverishly for as long as she could, once she’s done — and no bee can dance forever — she apparently stops caring.

Her enthusiasm drains out of her — Imagine Jimmy Stewart, the young Senator in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington making one glorious big speech, and then plopping down in his chair, dull and blank as a piece of chalk.

Read more at NPR.

Published On: March 6, 2013

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