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Most people know and love bees for their honey. It turns out that their swarm structure is also quite gentle.

When bees gather in swarms, they don’t just hover in the air.

“They hold hands and cling to each other,” said Orit Peleg, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “And then, usually, they’re hanging from something. It could be a tree branch.

Peleg is one of the authors of a study published last month on how bees in swarms form a structure that supports them all.

They discovered that the bees can spread the load across the entire swarm rather than the bees closest to the branch. They also found that bees can easily cluster together if a branch is shaken.

“The bees may be able to communicate with the bees that are close to them in the swarm, but they certainly cannot communicate directly with the bees that are far away from them, perhaps at the other end of the swarm. the swarm,” she said. “What we’re trying to figure out is how do they coordinate, forming a structure that maintains mechanical stability, which usually requires the simultaneous coordination of everyone involved?”

To figure this out, the researchers brought bees into swarms and used a small CT scanner to peek inside, resulting in 3D models that reveal the internal structure of the swarms.

“The overwhelming majority of bees are indoors and we can’t see them just because of the cloudiness of the bees,” Peleg said. “And they could play a potentially very important role for mechanical stability.”

They discovered that the bees can spread the load across the entire swarm rather than the bees closest to the branch. They also found that bees can easily cluster together if a branch is shaken.

The researchers’ goal is to one day apply their findings to building materials. Currently, most of our materials are static. Peleg thinks the structure and flexibility of bees could be exploited in materials to make them more resistant to environmental forces such as earthquakes.

“They adapt to the environment,” Peleg said. “They can react to mechanical forces as well as temperatures and things like that… It could be a really interesting way to improve the way we think about material design.”

Such ideas, she added, could inspire the design of insect-sized robot swarms. These tiny robots already exist and are programmed to communicate with each other in order to achieve a goal. Applying information about bee swarms could increase their usefulness.

“Maybe at some point in the future our buildings will be made of these active robotic materials,” Peleg said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana , KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations throughout the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the public broadcasting company.