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Sturgeon's House

The Bee Thread


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Lately I've been reading a book on beekeeping, and the first thing it goes into is the physiology of bees, their developmental cycle, as well as the "castes" of bees and what each does, which might be the most interesting thing about them. 


The queen bee is born from a grotesque, alien cell that juts out from the bottom of the normal brood cells:

Image result for queen bee cell


Once a queen is born, if she isn't killed at once by a resident queen, she takes a nuptial flight and goes to one of several DCA's (drone congregating areas - areas where drones from all the hives in the area go) and mates with about 20 drones. After that, she is mated for life and does nothing else for the rest of her life except lay eggs and kill rival queens.


The drones are the only male bees, and they do nothing else but mate once with a queen and then die (the drone's package is actually basically the same as a worker's stinger, and it is ripped out of their bodies after one use) The drones in the hive just break open honey cells when they need to eat, as they are incapable of foraging from plants.


The workers do literally everything else, and they are by far the most interesting caste. The workers are actually the smallest bees. When they are born, the first thing they do is clean out their cell to prepare it for another egg. Then they become nurse bees, feeding larvae and sometimes the queen as well. Some nurse bees serve the function of incubators, generating heat for brood cells when the temperature is not hot enough. In certain bee races, the nurse bees also clear out dead or diseased larvae, a very highly sought-after, but unfortunately recessive trait. Next, after a week or so, they become guard bees, defending the hive from raider bees or other animals. After another week or so, they become foragers. The first thing foragers do is take an orientation flight to familiarize themselves with local landmarks. The foraging bees bring back pollen to become bee bread and nectar to become honey, as well as water. They also communicate the location of good sources of resources to other foragers via dances. Strangely, the dances are different for each bee race. Some races have 3 distinct dances and others just have 2. The different dances communicate that the food lies within various distance ranges. For long-distance sources, the bees "waggle" different number of times during the "figure-eight" or "waggle" dance for more specific communication.

Image result for bee waggle danceall bee dances are done in the same spot in the hive, called the "dance floor"

Observing bees pick up on the visual dance as well as the scent of whatever the dancer is trying to communicate and then a few bees join together and exploit that resource for all they can. The foraging stage is hard on a bee, and this life stage degrades them physically. Very old bees become scout bees, and if they take part in a swarm (basically bee colonialism), they look for good new hive locations and then argue with other scouts about the best location (no joke, they do their dances repeatedly until all but one shuts up, and that's the hive location they choose.)

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