How Dominant is the Queen Bee?
By Sarah Pleuthner
At the center of a honeybee colony lies the heart and soul of the organization: the queen bee.
The queen, the mother to all who live in the hive, is vital to the existence of the entire colony. Without a queen, a hive cannot survive. In appearance she is larger than other bees (having a more elongated abdomen), and anatomically she is the only female to possess a functioning set of ovaries. During the summer months she goes about laying an average of 1500 eggs each day in order to maintain her colony’s workforce.
At any given moment thousands of the queen’s daughters (also known as workers) surround their mother queen and attend to her every need. They feed her, groom her, and when she relieves herself, they clean up after her. Even in the larval stage the queen is fed an exclusive diet of royal jelly secreted through the heads of the worker bees rather than the ordinary pollen and honey that other larvae are fed.
Everything the colony accomplishes is done with the intent of promoting the survival and reproduction of the queen.
So how dominant a role does the queen play in the day-to-day workings of the colony? You may be surprised to learn the answer.
It is a common misconception that the queen bee is the hive’s dictator. The queen actually has no say in the integral workings of the colony and in fact remains oblivious to much of what goes on around her.
According to Dr. Thomas D. Seeley, a biology professor at Cornell University who has dedicated his career to the study of bees, the queen bee is not the “all-knowing central planner [who is] supervising the thousands of worker bees in a colony.” Dr. Seeley goes on to explain, “The work of a hive is instead governed collectively by the workers themselves, each one an alert individual making tours of inspection looking for things to do and acting on her own to serve the community.”
So the fundamental decisions made within the colony that involve such matters as where to forage for nectar and pollen, what location to choose as a new home site, and when to leave behind their old home are collective decisions of the hive and have no input from her Royal Majesty, The Queen Bee.