Thursday, May 30, 2013

Caste System in The Honey Bee Colony: The Queen

The Honey bee colony is composed of three different castes of bees. The Queen bee, the workers bees and the drones (males). They all have a purpose they serve and if one of them is not present the colony cannot function properly. Above the other caste of bees, the queen in the most important.
Our Rooftop Queen (circled in red)
            The queen bee’s life starts off the same way a worker bee does. However, there are small significant differences that the queen bee has that worker bees do not. For instance, the queen bee is but into a different cell that looks similar to a peanut this helps her grow bigger and is not limited to the size of the average worker cell. Also, unlike the worker bees the queen bee is fed royal jelly throughout her life time. The Queen will live an average of three to five years when the average worker bee will live approximately 30 day.
Queen cell
            The queen is the only bee in the colony that is able to reproduce. Interestingly, she only mates once in her lifetime with multiple drones, male bees. She is able to store all the “genetic make-up” that she has attained. In addition, she can also choose what “genetic make-up” from a specific male she would like to use next. The rest of her life is mainly devoted to laying eggs. She is capable of laying 2000 eggs in one day.
            Although the queen is very important she can be replaced under certain circumstances. For instance, if the queen recently dies the worker bees will create a queen cell that looks like an outline of a peanut or a tear drop. Then they would take the youngest larvae and put it in the queen cell. Like every queen this larvae will be fed extensive amounts of royal jelly.
            The worker bees will raise a queen under different circumstances. In this case, the queen in not dead but rather the colony believes the queen is getting too old. As the queen gets older her pheromone output diminishes. Thus deeming the queen less useful to the colony and the colony eventually decides to replace her. The worker bees will do the same process as if the queen died. The only difference is that once that replacement queen has been born the colony proceeds in killing the older queen by clustering around her until she dies of overheating. The bees also use this for defense purposes in case a swaps or an unknown bee decides to disturbs the colony.
            On the other hand, a new queen does not always mean bad news. The queen herself can lay a new queen or in this case an heir. This only happens when the queen feels that she has accomplished her duty to one hive and leaves to create another. Before she begins her journey she first lays multiple eggs in queen cells. Once the new queens are capped and before they emerge the old queen and 60% of the worker bees leave the original location. This is called swarming.

            The queen is unique to most colonies since most colonies only have one queen. She provides continues life to her colony. However, she can be replaced if the colony or the queen chooses to.
Stay tuned in for later blog post concerning the other caste of bees in the colony. Next up is the worker bees and their multiple roles throughout their 30 day lifetime.

Written by Dulay

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