Democracy is not unique to human societies. Democratic practices are tightly woven into the very fabric of nature and guide the behavior of several animal species. In fact, we can learn a lot about democracy by studying natural democratic systems. Bees are a case in point.
While every bee colony has at its head a queen, this monarch is more a figurehead than an actual ruler, often tasked with the single role of laying eggs. Decision making in the beehive actually lies in the hands of other casts within the hive. The queen bee does not in any way dominate decision-making processes. In fact, according to research by Cornell University’s Thomas D. Seeley, bees tend to make decisions democratically and collectively.
Bees can often be seen working together. They organize tasks systematically and practice a clear division of labor from birth. They equally mount a collective defense of the colony without orders from the queen. An example of the benefits of this strategy is that when migrating the colony to a new home, the decision of finding a new location is spread between many bees, ensuring that the common knowledge of the group is taken into account. The work of moving is shared between them each and any quick decisions that have to be made are arrived at based on a general consensus. From the prologue to Seeley’s book, Honeybee Democracy:
The story of how honeybees make a democratic decision based on a face-to-face, consensus-seeking assembly is certainly important to behavioral biologists interested in how social animals make group decisions. I hope it will also prove important to neuroscientists studying the neural basis of decision making, for there are intriguing similarities between honeybee swarms and primate brains in the ways that they process information to make decisions. Furthermore, I hope the story of the househunting bees will be helpful to social scientists in their search for ways to raise the reliability of decision making by human groups.
A good number of lessons can be drawn from the democratic organization of beehives. The most basic is a fresh understanding of the simple concept that underpins democracy: collective decision making. When it comes to effective decision-making, humans societies can learn a lot from studying bees and discover how nature found a path to collective democratic organisation. Bee democracy has lasted a long time indeed.