Bees are one of the most fascinating creatures in the world. In the alleys of the internet there’s a popular meme that gets passed around - “According to Albert Einstein if honey bees were to disappear from the earth, humans would be dead within four years”. While there’s no evidence that Einstein said so, or that the apocalyptic prophecy mentioned would occur, what’s true though is that it’ll certainly cause mass starvation. Bees pollinate about 80% of the world’s plants including 90 different food crops. That’s about one third or one-fourth of all the agricultural food crops! Not only are they very helpful, but their life is also very very interesting.
It all begins when worker bees decide to raise a new queen. They pick a few eggs and build a peanut-shaped ‘Queen Cell’ around them. These special eggs hang in the hexagonal honeycomb. But the journey to royalty isn’t easy. The first to emerge kills all the other candidates before they can reach adulthood. If multiple queens hatch simultaneously, they’ll fight to death. And only one comes out as a victor. This is pretty much the only time the queen uses their stinger.
These queens-to-be candidates are the only one fed the ‘Royal Jelly’, a substance secreted by the workers, their entire life, even in adulthood. This ‘Royal Jelly’ helps them reach sexual maturity with active ovaries. The competition and pressure are so high that they mature ~ 25% faster than normal workers. The Queen’s only job is to lay eggs. But, her pheromones also help keep the hive healthy.
She mates once at the beginning of her life, then lays more than a thousand eggs a day during summer for up to five years. But not all eggs get fertilised. The fertilised eggs they lay become female worker bees, and the non-fertilised eggs become male drones. The female fertilised eggs are fed ‘Royal Jelly’ for the first two days, then switched to a diet of pollen and honey. This change in diet causes hormonal changes that prevent worker bees from attaining sexual maturity. They make up about 85% of the population and they are the ones who do all the important tasks like nectar collection, taking care of eggs, males and the queen etc keeping the hive running smoothly
The unfertilised eggs that become male make up about 15% of the total population of the hive. This interesting distinction in the sex of male drone bees, means they have only half the chromosomes of their sisters. And no father! These drones are mostly useless, can’t even feed themselves. They have only one goal in life — To try and mate with a virgin queen from another hive. If they succeed, they die, if not they get killed, or evicted before the winter arrives.