Posts Tagged: queen bee
Life and death in the bee observation hive...
If you ever have the opportunity to check out a bee observation hive--a glassed-in hive showing the colony at work--you can easily spot the three castes: the queen bee, worker bees and drones.
If you look closely, you'll observe the foragers performing their waggle and round dances and the royal attendants circling the queen in a retinue.
The queen will lay from 1000 to 2000 eggs a day in peak season. From an egg, to a larva to a pupa to a newly emerged bee, it's all there.
You'll observe the worker bees performing their specific duties: nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers. The worker bees (sterile females) run the hive. They're the "you-go" girls and the "go-to" girls.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis has several observation hives. One is in the Laidlaw conference room; another is in an entomology classroom in 122 Briggs Hall. The bees enter and exit through a thin tube connecting the inside of the colony to the outside world.
Avid bee enthusiasts place an observation hive in their homes, often in the living room. It's a honey of a conversation piece, beside being an educational experience.
The saddest part? Watching the undertaker bees carry out the motionless bodies of their sisters and brothers.
Or watching the sisters, as winter approaches, evict their brothers. The girls are protecting their precious food storage and want fewer mouths to feed.
Drones, whose only responsibility is to mate with the queen, aren't needed in the winter months.
But wait 'til spring...
Oh, to be a queen bee...
Her Royal Highness (HRH) is quite pampered. She's always surrounded by her royal attendants, called the retinue. They tend to her every need. They feed and groom her. They keep her warm or cool, depending on the temperature inside the hive.
They know it's her and not an imposter. Her Excellency releases a pheromone (chemical) that identifies her.
The retinue--with attendants circling the queen--reminds me of a NFL quarterback huddle. Form a tight-knit circle. Strategize. Criticize. Motivate. Win the game. Celebrate.
The queen bee, however, is no quarterback.
The worker bees (females) run the hive. They're the builders, architects, foragers, guards, royal attendants, coolers and heaters, nurse maids, nannies and undertakers.
The queen's only duty is to lay eggs. In peak season, she lays as many as 2000 eggs a day. She's the mother of all the bees in the hive, which can amount to 45,000 to 60,000 in the summer.
Ever seen a "classic retinue" photograph? Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, shared this photo (below). Note that ALL the royal attendants are facing her, which is what makes this a "classic retinue" instead of a your basic everyday retinue.
Hail to the queen.
But the real salute, the real applause, the real credit, should go to the workers.
They do all the work.
The honey bee hive is not all sweetness.
The first virgin queen bee to emerge from her cell (each queen cell resembles a peanut shell) will rid the colony of her competition.
After emerging, the queen makes a mark on the other queen cells. That's an indication--or really, an order--for the worker bees to destroy the developing queen inside, says Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty..
There can, after all, be only one queen bee in the hive.`
"The queen bee develops from a fertilized egg that hatches three days after being laid," wrote authors Eric Mussen, Len Foote, Norman Gary, Harry Laidlaw, Robbin Thorp and Lee Watkins in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources booklet, Beekeeping in California, published in 1987. "Nurse bees, a class of worker bee, feed developing queen larvae a special diet consisting mostly of the royal jelly that they secrete from their glands. This special diet shortens the time spent to reach maturity to 16 days, compared with 21 days for the worker bee and 24 for the drone (male). The result is a bee larger than any others, with fully developed ovaries and a very large abdomen."
"The queen," they explain, "is reared in a large cell resembling a peanut shell that hangs vertically from the comb and about 10 days after emerging, she becomes sexually mature."
Then she takes one or more mating flights, mates with 10 to 20 drones, and returns to the hive to spend the rest of her life laying eggs. In her two-to-three-year life span, she'll lay about 1000 eggs a day. In peak season, she'll lay about 2000 eggs a day.
She's queen for the day, and every day.
If you were a queen bee, you'd be laying about 1500 to 2000 eggs today. It's your busy season.
"She's an egg-laying machine," said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. "And she's the mother of all the bees in the hive." During the peak season, that amounts to about 50,000 to 80,000 workers (sterile females) and 1000 to 2000 drones (males).
Worker bees take care of her every need. They feed her, groom her and protect her, Cobey said, "and then they have the additional tasks of rearing and feeding her young."
The queen bee is easy to spot in the hive; she's the biggest bee. And wherever she goes, you'll see her court (workers) surrounding her.
Beekeepers mark her with a colored dot on her thorax so she's easily visible. (School children, when asked to single out the queen bee, say "She's the one with the dot!")
On her maiden flight, the queen bee mates with some 12 to 25 drones and then she heads back to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life, "usually two or three years," said Cobey, who is internationally renowned for her classes on "The Art of Queen Rearing" and "Instrumental Insemination and Bee Breeding."
The queen bee destroys any and all competitors for her "throne" by stinging and killing them. Unlike worker bees, she does not die after she stings.
Interestingly enough, only female bees can sting. Drones, or male bees, have no stingers (despite what Jerry Seinfeld's character said in The Bee Movie). Their only purpose is to mate with the queen. Then they die.
It's a matriarchal society. The girls (worker bees) do all the work; they serve as nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants and undertakers. It's not surprising, then, that during the summer, their life span is only four to six weeks.
Meanwhile, if you're the queen bee, there's no reproductive rest for you! You have about 1,999 more eggs to lay today.
The queen bee and her court
A Marked Queen Bee