Friday, September 25, 2009

HOW BEES DO FAMILY PLANNING

When a community loses tens of thousands population over winter then has to repopulate with tens of thousands of newborns in the spring, get them raised and slotted among six job descriptions, all without a top-down presiding leader, then "family planning" takes on a whole new meaning. So how do bees do it? I'm a newbee, but this is what I understand. Also watch the video. But caution. It includes violence and adult bee content.

Honey bee drones have about one function in life. Which, by the way, leads to immediate death.

Each hive of 75,000 females needs a few drones around, so that when the queen takes one mating flight in the spring...well...you know. Birds n bees and all that.

Anyway, while we humans do spring cleaning, bee home makers do their major house cleaning in the fall. They need to get ready for the cold, starving winter. And, since these ladies know there won't be any queen flights for a few months, what to do with those remaining drones who never got any action?

All winter, drones just lay around, eat precious food, eye the girls, and contribute nothing. (Sounds like football season?) So at one point in the fall the ladies boot most (but not all) the boys out. No one knows how the ladies arrive at a consensus decision on what day to do it. Or how they rate the guys to decide who's in line for lucky in the spring.

If you watch this video close you can see this ritual in action. The video is shot at the front door to a hive. One little guy (actually the drones are the largest) just won't give up and tries to sneak back in.

No big deal. If the girls run short of queen-ready drones in the spring, they know how to re-breed some new drones next spring (the female worker bees know how to set gender by size of honeycomb cell, feeding regimine and larvae uncapping/recapping schedule). But they must do it all in time to date the queen. Then from that one mating the queen will have over 100,000 babies over the next few months. Some of whom will be drones that they'll have to kick out in the fall.