Drones are bigger than worker bees and develop in larger cells. When the queen lays an egg in one of these larger cells, she "knows" the egg must be unfertilized. All worker eggs are fertilized. As worker bees mature, epigenetic controls (proteins that turn genes on and off) advance her through her delegated tasks of nurse, builder, guard, and forager bee. This epigenetic control actually changes the form, function, and behavior of the bee. For instance, as the bee matures from nurse to builder the hypopharyngeal gland, originally used to produce royal jelly, transitions to process wax in order to build comb. Next, workers move to the entrance of the hive to guard it. Finally, in their last two weeks of life, the worker bees leave the hive to forage for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis.
Worker bees, unlike drones, have stingers. In contrast to the queen's smooth dual sting and ovipositor, these workers have a barbed sting attached to a venom sac. This also contains alarm pheromones that help other bees find what they're attacking. If the worker sting pierces the thick skin of mammals (like us humans), the barb prevents the sting from coming out, which invariably causes the bee to die.
Reproductive responsibility lies on the queen bee, whose abdomen is shiny and elongated to hold her many eggs. Attendants feed her a rich diet of royal jelly, the protein-rich, pollen-based food she needs in order to lay eggs. By lowering her back end into empty honeycomb cells, she lays up to 1,500 eggs a day. Eggs are fed royal jelly for the first three days and are then weaned to honey and pollen for the next seven. Ten days after hatching, the new bee will spin a cocoon in which it will metamorphose into an adult bee.
Propagating new queens is a special process and typically begins when workers build special elongated cells to hang from beneath the comb. Filled with normal fertilized eggs, these queen cells are fed royal jelly throughout their pupation. Once the first queen emerges, she'll make a sound to which other hatched or unhatched queens will respond. Using this special tracking maneuver, she finds and kills her regal competition. If more than one queen survives, the hive will swarm, a reproductive process by which the old queen and her followers find a new location to start building a new hive. When the new virgin queen is mature enough to mate, she leaves the hive to mate with drones of other colonies. The virgin queen will mate with 12-20 drones to fill her spermatheca (semen bladder), so that she can commence laying eggs and building the colony for the rest of her life.
By Maggie McNamara
Environmental Policy ('15)
Edited by Kristin Wolf
Assistant Professor - Core Division
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