(4 min read)
In a honeybee hive you can become 1 out of 3 things: a Queen (there can only be one), a Worker (we are majority, thousands) or a Drone (a few hundreds for hive). Let’s break it down:
Worker bees, after hatching from their bee egg, are born as blind larvae and doomed to wriggle around, eat and execrate…
The larvae then grow larger over time (thanks to all the feeding that receives by nurse worker bees) sometimes up to 1500 times their original size as egg. Those honeybees whose fate is to be workers, will moult 5 times during their larval stage. Then they will form into pupae or cocoons where the digievolution transformation into adult bee takes place.
During their approximate lifetime between 1 and 4 months, worker bees will have to perform different tasks depending on what their age is and what the moment requires, prioritizing the wellbeing of the colony and especially the young generation over theirs. If they need to sacrifice protecting the hive or going foraging in urgent situations, they will.
(Figure 1 – Days and stages of bees’ growth)
You’d think that royalty has it easier than regular bee workers… and well, it’s true that the Queen to be bees will receive a different diet than those meant to become worker bees, one very rich in royal jelly. It’s also a fact that they mature at a faster rate and that they live up to 40 times more than a worker bee (between 3 & 5 years).
However, if multiple queen cells have been provisioned in a colony, the first Queen to emerge will instinctively seek, sting, and kill her sister queens before they can do the same. Sometimes it will happen that multiple Queens are born at the same time, turning the hive into an Arena where the Queens fight to death as only 1 can remain.
After that, her job will be to go out to mate with multiple drones (those who can keep her rhythm). Finally, she will come back to the hive to lie eggs non-stop until she dies, up to 3000 daily (maximum).
The life of the drones is like a romantic tragedy, it starts on spring, when the hive wakes up from hibernation. They are the only ones that come from unfertilized eggs. This is because a Drones job is to mate with a Queen from another Colony and thus only transfer the genetic code of his Hive. Queens mate with multiple Drones, thus carrying different genetic codes. By not fertilizing the egg, the Queen achieves that only her Genetic Code is passed by and not the rest of codes stored in her spermatheca.
Drones take their time to develop. At the beginning they can’t eat on their own so they need to be fed by the nurses. Once they fully develop and can fly, they will go out of the hive in pursue of a Queen with which to mate. If they don’t succeed, they will come back to regain energy and try it again. However, should a drone succeed in mating, he will soon die because the genitalia and associated abdominal tissues are ripped from his body after sexual intercourse.
During autumn, if the drones don’t manage to mate with a Queen before winter, they will be driven out of the hive (which also equals certain death) otherwise they would consume too much food threatening the colony’s survival.
Ahh… to bee or not to bee that is the question!
(Original picture by Aggie Marder / Unsplash)
- The Bee Book – Discover the Wonder of Bees and How to Protect Them for Generations to Come https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781465443830 by Dk and Contributions from Emma Tennant & Fergus Chadwick
- Bee Larvae – https://beehivehero.com/bee-larvae/ by Dan Greenwood
- An Introduction to Queen Honey Bee Development – https://extension.psu.edu/an-introduction-to-queen-honey-bee-development by Kate Anton & Christina Grozinger
- Figure 1 – EL MÓN FASCINANT DE LES ABELLES – M.A. Julivert, Ed. Parramón. 1991. Fig. 9 (pag 17);