One Season in the Skin of a Queen Bee

Honeybee worker, Queen and drone, adults

Would you like to know what it’s like to be one of the most intelligent social beings on the planet, yet a million times smaller than a human?

Here’s the life that would have been expected of you, Big Mamma

Queens are born from the same eggs as honeybee workers — the result of fecundation of the egg and the male’s sperm — but deposited in a bigger chamber, and most importantly, fed with Royal food. Your illustrious birth will allow you to live through several springs, in contrast to your working sisters. Ladies of honor attend to you constantly and never leave you out of sight.

Being the first and only Princess

Your body evolves to dedicate itself fully to the task of laying eggs, your abdomen growing to such an extent that the brain space is reduced. As you are born to the hive, you can tell right away there are other princesses sleeping in the nearby cells. Belligerent, you aim straight for them. But ladies of honor are guarding the holy nymphs and they won’t let you pass. They eagerly protect the other princesses for future swarms, and won’t obey your will. You have the abdomen, but all in all they have the brain. Your frustration is tremendous and you cry out so loud that the forest can hear you.

Your Destiny: meeting Prince Charming

Soon, you are getting ready for the nuptial flight. All your destiny is laying ahead of you and you feel the weight of responsibility. You don’t have much time to meet your love: after you turn 20 days, you will become permanently sterile. The flight is very dangerous, you will have to go way up in the skies, above trees, above the spiderwebs, above the winds, above the territory of the birds. You are waiting for the right kind of weather, a clear blue sky, to put all chances on your side.

The Day has come. Today is warm and sunny enough, and you feel ready. You build momentum, and you take off. Your wings vibrate faster than they ever will, and you fly up, up, up. All the males from 20 or 30 tribes around join the quest to the virgin unattainable princess you are. 10 000 of them chase your virginity. Below you, some of the drones are tiring away, some are gulped by birds, some becoming smaller and smaller as you fly higher and higher. After some time, as the sun is so bright you are blinded, a Prince joins you. In one instant of paroxysmic pleasure that only You, out of the 100 000 bees, have the chance to know, your Champion Lover delivers 25 million spermatozoids. You will keep them alive and active near the oviduct for as long as you live. It is over already, your King is falling down, his insides leaking out of his body. He has known his destiny, while all the others will die virgin and useless.

Your Responsibility, carrier of a million lives

You go back down to the hive, satisfied, and all the bees are celebrating you and taking care of you even more than ever before. Right away, you start laying eggs. You demand more and more chambers for the working bees, they are the ones allowing the hive to thrive. In a couple of months, thousands will come to life, and will fill the hive with food and strength.

Adult, egg-laying queen surrounded by a court of its daughter worker bees as an example of morphological caste differentiation in the stingless bee genus Melipona. From researchgate.net.

The swarm, giving up on your Kingdom to start all over again

Thousands if eggs later, the moment has come to fund another City. The Spirit of the Hive insufflates in every winged soul the faith in the big exodus. You have your second opportunity in a lifetime to see the sun. One of Princesses who are sleeping will make your hearth big again after you are gone. She will likely sting to death her sisters to become the One. No-one likes to share the power with other Queens.

While the masons are building the new hive, the nurses, guards, and ladies of honor are taking especially good care of you. After all, you are the only one whose death means a million death. Whose end means the end of the Family.

A royal duel by the rules

Another Queen is coming into your hive. She must be looking for trouble. You will let her know this is your Kingdom. Your sisters and daughters let her come to you. She is threatening, her saber-sting ahead of her. You face each other in a duel, the way it should be. She hits and you dodge. You hit and she dodges. You aim at each other in the same gesture — but this is too symmetrical, and you two would risk dying simultaneously, so in a gasp of deep instinct for the survival of the species, you both take a step back. You regain your strength, with bees all around you and above you as in a cheering prison, and then come back at each other. The enemy seems weaker now, and while your colony is not taking sides in the battle, you can feel generalized relief when you sting the throne usurper to death.

Eggs, eggs, eggs forever

The rest of your life is quiet in its business. You spend every moment, day and night, laying eggs in the dark, calculating the right ratio of workers and males, and taking into account the food and space available to give rise to a next generation of Royal blood. You build the grounds for prosperity. You lay eggs while you are fed, you lay eggs between sleeping sighs, if this can be called sleep. You are fulfilling your destiny, until another princess or another Queen will come and revendicate the power.

“It is curious to see that so many things, organs, ideas, desires, habits, a whole destiny, lays pending, not a semen, which would be the ordinary miracle of plants, animals and men — but in a strange and inert matter: in a drop of honey”

To discover your life if you had been born a simple honeybee or a male read this and that associated stories.

Note: This bee-story is inspired by Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee, a perfect example of the Ideal Book: it offers genuine learning of a totally different species, a change of perspective, it transmits enthusiasm and awe for life, while elevating spirits, heart, and soul. Although bees live a completely different life from ours, it is comparable in so many ways, and appears superior in some, as in their dedication to the community and to the future. Bees give us honey and wax, but the most precious presents they offer us are the harmony & abundance of the sunny days, and the humbling realization that there are other forms of intelligence out there.

If you love bees, there are many associations you can sustain, and if you have a garden, several things you can do to help your little friends thrive through hard times. Put cobblestones in a big bowl filled with water so the bees can drink without drowning, and sow flowers with high pollen potential.

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Nina Vinot

Nina Vinot

My Education is in Biology, Agronomy and Nutrition My Career is in Health-Promoting Bacteria My Passion is to Benefit Life, Happiness and the Planet