The queen bee is undoubtedly the most popular bee in the hive. Everyone knows that a honeybee colony has a queen. Vital to colony survival, the queen bee is the mother of all bees in the hive.
Therefore, the queen bee must be the boss, right? She is the only one bee necessary for colony survival. This leads one to believe that she is calling the shots. However, this is not how things work in a honeybee community.
The queen bee has only one task to perform. She lays unfertilized eggs that become drones or male bees. Because she can mate and store sperm in her body, she is also capable of laying fertilized eggs. These fertilized eggs develop into worker bees.
Every colony member has a role to play in the direction of the hive. However, the workers bees play a larger role in colony direction than some may think.
Worker bees are non-reproductive females. Because they can not mate, they are unable to lay fertilized eggs. Yet, thousands of worker bees perform the day to day activities that keep the colony moving forward.
Worker role in egg laying
It would seem that the queen bee is in complete charge of laying eggs and deciding the future population of the hive. However, the workers bees play a role in this task too.
Before laying eggs, our queen will closely examine and measure the honeycomb cell. If the cell is not clean and polished, she will not lay in it.
Guess who cleans those cells? Yes, worker bees are responsible for cleaning the cells in which the queen will lay. In this way, they are having some control over the laying activity of the queen bee.
The queen’s retinue
The queen is completely focused on her task as egg layer. She does not feed herself but luckily, she has a retinue. A group of worker bees constantly follow the queen. They feed her, groom her, and clean away any waste.
Over time, the bees in the retinue change. If the colony is planning to swarm — bees in the retinue will feed the queen less. She needs to slim down in preparation to fly away with the swarm.
If the queen is suddenly removed from the hive or dies, the colony moves into replacement mode. Worker bees will select several very young larvae from fertilized eggs. Fed a copious amount of a special diet, one of these larvae will become the new queen.
Sometimes, the queen does not die, but weakens slowly over time. When her productivity begins to lag, the colony may decide to replace her. Once a new queen is ready to emerge, worker bees will often kill the old queen.
While the queen honeybee is fundamentally the most important bee in a colony, it is not a true monarchy. She does not make all of the colony decisions.
If fact, she is in some ways at the mercy of the worker bees. They control her behavior in more ways than some may think.
The study of bee interactions within the hive is truly fascinating. Even though bees have been studied for many years, there is still more to know.