How to Become Royalty
In a single day, a honeybee Queen will lay more than 1000 eggs. Unfertilized eggs become male bees, acting as drones, whereas all of the eggs that were fertilized are genetically destined to become females. These females will either be worker bees, which is a vast majority of the bees, or a queen bee.
While both Queen Bees and drones are able to mate, worker bees are actually sterile. They make up most of the population of the hive and without them, the hive would never be able to function properly. But what differentiates these females from the Queens?
A Different Diet
Genetic programming is actually activated by a bee’s diet while young. Bee larvae are all initially fed the same diet consisting solely of a substance called Royal Jelly. This gelatinous liquid is actually what the larvae initially grow inside, similar to amniotic fluids for humans, until they metamorphose into a full-grown bee. Royal Jelly is made up of a sugary, protein-filled and water-based liquid that is excreted from the glands of bees and, after metamorphosis, it is no longer fed to the majority of the bees. The exception to this rule is the Queen Bee, who will continue to feed on the “royal” substance throughout the rest of her life while her worker counter parts switch to bee bread, a combination of fermented pollen and honey.
While it was originally hypothesized that it was a lack of the coveted Royal Jelly that stunted bees’ reproductive systems, turning them into worker bees, there is now evidence supporting a bit of a different angle to this theory. It is not actually the Royal Jelly itself that causes the Queen to become royal, rather it is a lack of the pollen and honey mixture that actually keeps her fertile and genetically varied from her female counterparts. Therefore, it’s now theorized that it is the bee bread, that truly stunts the worker bees’ reproductive abilities and differentiates them from the Queen.
The Game of “Bee” Thrones
When a Queen in a hive passes, the bees will begin prepping new eggs to make a Queen. Once these new Queens are born and have evolved out of the larvae stage, they will proceed to hunt down their fellow sisters in a sort of “game of thrones” tradition, killing them in order to seal her fate as the next colony Queen. This new Queen will then take a long flight away from her hive in order to mate at another colony. This period in which she mates with drones only happens once in her lifetime, and when she returns to the hive, unless she is relocating the colony in a swarm, she will never leave the hive again.
Hanson, J. Ph D. (2016) How Do Bee’s Make Honey?, It’s Okay To Be Smart. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ1EjDLJCmg (Accessed: June 2020).
Identifying the Queen Bee (2015) Forest Farming. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-oGdTYrJEI (Accessed: June 2020)
Mao,W., Schuler, M. A., and Berenbaum, M. R. (2015) “A Dietary Phytochemical Alters Caste-Associated Gene Expression in Honey Bees,” Science Advances, 28 August.