For Queen And Colony

Within the hive of the most social bees, there are many different castes filling many different roles. The queen, who presides over her subjects from deep within the heart of the colony, lays eggs and decides which eggs will become what. After a queen has been fertilized by male honey bees, she has the ability to both lay eggs and fertilize them herself. She gives birth to every member of her colony, in addition to the queens of many other potential colonies. When eggs destined to become worker bees hatch, they are ready to take on the role of caretaker for those bees still in their infancy. These workers will feed new queens (often as a replacement for an older queen) nothing but royal jelly, a nutrient rich 6-8-2015 3-35-52 PMsecretion that the workers alone can produce. If the egg is destined to become a male (completely unfertilized by the queen) it is fed a mixture of pollen (as a protein source) and royal jelly. Finally, by feeding the same mixture of royal jelly and pollen to a fertilized egg, it will grow to become a worker.

The females of the hive are dominant, and make up the vast majority of bee population. While the queens are obviously female, as are all of the workers. Males are used only for reproductive means, and are the one caste that is never born with a stinger. The role of a male drone within the hive is to exist until he is used for reproduction with an up and coming queen, after which he will soon die.

As with most social insects, bees are known to communicate using a variety chemicals, odors, and body movements. Many bees will dance while aiming in a specific direction, giving her sisters a literal compass to follow in order to find what has been marked as a precious resource (typically pollen rich flowers). Being highly intelligent for insects, they also learn rather quickly when is the best time to forage for food. These techniques make them highly adaptable and are a testament to the successful nature of the bee as a communal creature. If a flower or plant has not been a very valuable resource, the workers are unlikely to visit it in the future, and will instruct other bees to follow suit. Conversely, if a particular area is notably fruitful, the workers will instruct attempt to recruit other workers from the hive to visit it more frequently. Upon returning to the hive with the bounty, worker bees are known to do a dance in an effort to instruct nearby workers on where they were able to forage, with an oblong dance showing the food is far away, and a more circular dance explaining that it is closer.

queen-bee1Outside of the oddly named “waggle dances” and the compass actions that worker bees perform to explain what they know about resources and locations, members of the hive will also use selective pheromones to help adjust the distribution of labor. As food supplies and weather conditions change, more bees may be needed to forage while food is abundant or stay at the nest to preserve precious nutrients. By using a chemical carried in the stomach, older forager bees are able to force feed younger worker bees to keep them in a state of nursing. When a worker bee is fed this chemical (ethyl oleate) they remain inside the hive, tending to the young and avoid the outside world. This allows bees who have a more adept knowledge of the outside world to help control the hive through a form of decentralized decision making.

With such a complicated array of communication methods designed to help the hive function on a day-to-day basis and adapt to any changes in their environment, the honey bees are truly magnificent creatures. And fortunately for nearly every habitat on earth, these insects have persisted for a hundred million years thanks to their advanced communication techniques.