How many bees can you fit in an X-ray machine? That's not a joke
A honeybee swarm hangs from a tree. Credit: Peleg Lab at CU Boulder

For the first time, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have used x-ray computed tomography to peer inside honeybee colonies.

The scans show that bees don't clump together in a random way. Instead, they seem to form dome-shaped structures based on mathematical rules. One day, the results could help engineers design more resilient buildings, or even swarms of tinyrobots that behave like insects.

Even though bees have large brains, they can achieve all this.

The assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder said that he wasn't aware of the laws. bees are able to arrange themselves in order to keep their mechanical stability.

Their results were published in the journal.

The work needed to get bees to sit still for their X-rays was done by the lead author.

The researchers relied on honeybee queens to get thousands of worker bees to join into a swarm in the lab. The team moved the swarms in front of the machine.

The group's method is so precise you can pick out individual bees. Scientists can use the images to understand how bees and other social insects create such shape shifting organisms.

The bees respond to different temperatures. How do they keep the swarm warm in the cold? How do they stay cool in the heat?

The person is looking inside.

When honeybee colonies become too crowded, bee queens will leave to look for a new home. The bees that the queens bring with them will sometimes cluster around the queen to keep her safe.

How many bees can you fit in an X-ray machine? That's not a joke
Orit Peleg holds up a tray of bees in an apiary on the CU Boulder campus. Credit: Peleg Lab at CU Boulder

The swarms can be found from trees to benches and cars. They are magnificent little assembly.

They are also able to change. In a previous study, Peleg and her colleagues shook swarms of bees to see if they could replicate the force of a wind. The bees flattened out into a pancake shape to help them stay stable.

We haven't been able to peek inside a swarm and see what's happening.

The weight needs to be put on me.

The group scanned 11 swarms of bees and found up to 10,000 insects.

A bee swarm is similar to a cheerleading pyramid. There are more bees around the base of the swarm. No one layer has to carry more than it's fair share of weight. Each layer supports a weight that is roughly its own weight to the one-and-a-half power.

The law states that each layer uses the same amount of strength as every other layer.

The bees were tested to see how much weight they could carry. About 35 other bees can be lifted by a bee. A maximum of four other bees are lifted by bees in a swarm.

The team discovered a scaling law that is common in nature. The relationship between how much you weigh and how many dumbbell you can lift varies among human weightlifters.

The same type of laws seem to apply to bees. There may be general principles of organization for structures like these that we don't know about yet.

The bees didn't sting her a lot, but she enjoyed working with them.

They're friendly in a group.

More information: Olga Shishkov et al, Strength-mass scaling law governs mass distribution inside honey bee swarms, Scientific Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-21347-5 Journal information: Scientific Reports