Rapidly changing environment modulates the thermoregulatory fanning response in honeybee groups

Chelsea N. Cook, Rachael E. Kaspar, Samuel M. Flaxman, Michael D. Breed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Social insect societies maintain homeostasis through decentralized collective effort. In quickly changing environments, homeostasis can be difficult, as information may promptly become outdated. How do decentralized social insect groups respond to rapid environmental changes? Honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) workers use thermoregulatory fanning behaviour as part of their repertoire to maintain nest temperatures below 36 °C, as larvae can develop malformations and die if temperatures surpass this threshold. Here, we determine whether honeybees alter their fanning behaviour when experiencing different rates of thermal change. We found that honeybee fanners were significantly more likely to fan when experiencing rapidly increasing temperatures, but this response was only seen in larger groups of bees. Additionally, fanners responded at significantly lower temperatures when temperatures were increased quickly, but again, only when they were in larger groups. Our results show a statistically significant interaction between fanning response and group size. These findings illustrate the importance of exploring both response thresholds and probability of response of animals in social groups experiencing changing environments, as both factors affect homeostatic responses. Understanding how self-organized animal societies maintain homeostasis provides insight into decentralized organization across many biological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-243
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - May 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding was provided by the University of Colorado's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Graduate School, specifically the Dean's Research Grant. We greatly appreciate all the feedback for this manuscript, including valuable comments from the Breed lab, Animal Behavior Reading Group, and writing seminar, as well as the helpful suggestions from referees and the editor. Thank you Q.D.T. for feedback on models and statistical analysis. None of this would have been possible without the Bee Team 2014.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.


  • Apis mellifera
  • Decentralized homeostasis
  • Eusocial insect
  • Honeybee
  • Self-organization
  • Thermoregulation


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