How do honeybees requeen themselves?

How do honeybees requeen themselves?

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It is said that beehives once queenless try to rear a new one by themselves. Beekeeping resources, books, websites, youtube videos, etc. have a very pragmatic human-centered view to the issue: what should the beekeeper do and don't. Some say, that the beehive can potentially rear a new queen on their own. I've also heard from beekeepers that they can be helped by introducing an extra brood comb from another hive.

I am interested in knowing the details on how this re-queening process takes place without human intervention.

Queens, like workers are female, hence they must come from diploid eggs. Hence only a mated queen can provide the egg needed to produce a new queen. Also it is known that queens are reared inside special queen cells which lie in vertical position in the comb. It is known and it can be easily observed, that if the queen dies unexpectedly, the hive prepares for a substitute by building queen cups (will be queen cells). But I wonder how do they actually get a queen from those cells. The workers must either

  • carry an egg, previously laid by the former queen, from a worker cell into the cup,
  • or build the queen cup around a cell that already has an egg, or a young larva.

I can't imagine any other possible way.

So, how does exactly the requeening processes takes place?

Update. To be more specific about the details of the process of requeening I would like also to add the following questions:

  • Do they start breeding a queen from an egg or a young larva?
  • Do they choose this egg/larva at random?
  • Do we know a probability distribution for queen hatching dates? ie. the probability of a queen emerging (starting from a 0-day egg) after 15 days, 16 days, 17 days, etc.
  • What's the attitude of worker bees with respect to queen cells? Can a queen cell be destroyed by worker bees under certain circumstances?

Thanks to @S-Pr I found the answer on wikipedia. On the Supersedure section of the article it is written the following:

If a queen suddenly dies, the workers will attempt to create an "emergency queen" by selecting several brood cells where a larva has just emerged which are then flooded with royal jelly. The worker bees then build larger queen cells over the normal-sized worker cells which protrude vertically from the face of the brood comb. Emergency queens are usually smaller and less prolific than normal queens.

Although, There is no reference to a source. Maybe one of the citations at the end of the page has the answer.

The Colony and Its Organization

Honey bees are social insects, which means that they live together in large, well-organized family groups. Social insects are highly evolved insects that engage in a variety of complex tasks not practiced by the multitude of solitary insects. Communication, complex nest construction, environmental control, defense, and division of the labor are just some of the behaviors that honey bees have developed to exist successfully in social colonies. These fascinating behaviors make social insects in general, and honey bees in particular, among the most fascinating creatures on earth.

A honey bee colony typically consists of three kinds of adult bees: workers, drones, and a queen. Several thousand worker bees cooperate in nest building, food collection, and brood rearing. Each member has a definite task to perform, related to its adult age. But surviving and reproducing take the combined efforts of the entire colony. Individual bees (workers, drones, and queens) cannot survive without the support of the colony.

In addition to thousands of worker adults, a colony normally has a single queen and several hundred drones during late spring and summer (Figure 1). The social structure of the colony is maintained by the presence of the queen and workers and depends on an effective system of communication. The distribution of chemical pheromones among members and communicative “dances” are responsible for controlling the activities necessary for colony survival. Labor activities among worker bees depend primarily on the age of the bee but vary with the needs of the colony. Reproduction and colony strength depend on the queen, the quantity of food stores, and the size of the worker force. As the size of the colony increases up to a maximum of about 60,000 workers, so does the efficiency of the colony.

Each colony has only one queen, except during and a varying period following swarming preparations or supersedure. Because she is the only sexually developed female, her primary function is reproduction. She produces both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. Queens lay the greatest number of eggs in the spring and early summer. During peak production, queens may lay up to 1,500 eggs per day. They gradually cease laying eggs in early October and produce few or no eggs until early next spring (January). One queen may produce up to 250,000 eggs per year and possibly more than a million in her lifetime.

A queen is easily distinguished from other members of the colony. Her body is normally much longer than either the drone’s or worker’s, especially during the egg-laying period when her abdomen is greatly elongated. Her wings cover only about two-thirds of the abdomen, whereas the wings of both workers and drones nearly reach the tip of the abdomen when folded. A queen’s thorax is slightly larger than that of a worker, and she has neither pollen baskets nor functional wax glands. Her stinger is curved and longer than that of the worker, but it has fewer and shorter barbs. The queen can live for several years—sometimes for as long as 5, but average productive life span is 2 to 3 years.

The second major function of a queen is producing pheromones that serve as a social “glue” unifying and helping to give individual identity to a bee colony. One major pheromone—termed queen substance—is produced by her mandibular glands, but others are also important. The qualities of the colony depend largely on the egg-laying and chemical production capabilities of the queen. Her genetic makeup—along with that of the drones she has mated with—contributes significantly to the quality, size, and temperament of the colony.

About one week after emerging from a queen cell, the queen leaves the hive to mate with several drones in flight. Because she must fly some distance from her colony to mate (nature’s way of avoiding inbreeding), she first circles the hive to orient herself to its location. She leaves the hive by herself and is gone approximately 13 minutes. The queen mates, usually in the afternoon, with seven to fifteen drones at an altitude above 20 feet. Drones are able to find and recognize the queen by her chemical odor (pheromone). If bad weather delays the queen’s mating flight for more than 20 days, she loses the ability to mate and will only be able to lay unfertilized eggs, which result in drones.

After mating the queen returns to the hive and begins laying eggs in about 48 hours. She releases several sperm from the spermatheca each time she lays an egg destined to become either a worker or queen. If her egg is laid in a larger drone-sized cell, she does not release sperm. The queen is constantly attended and fed royal jelly by the colony’s worker bees. The number of eggs the queen lays depends on the amount of food she receives and the size of the worker force capable of preparing beeswax cells for her eggs and caring for the larva that will hatch from the eggs in 3 days. When the queen substance secreted by the queen is no longer adequate, the workers prepare to replace (supersede) her. The old queen and her new daughter may both be present in the hive for some time following supersedure.

New (virgin) queens develop from fertilized eggs or from young worker larvae not more than 3 days old. New queens are raised under three different circumstances: emergency, supersedure, or swarming. When an old queen is accidentally killed, lost, or removed, the bees select younger worker larvae to produce emergency queens. These queens are raised in worker cells modified to hang vertically on the comb surface (Figure 2). When an older queen begins to fail (decreased production of queen substance), the colony prepares to raise a new queen. Queens produced as a result of supersedure are usually better than emergency queens since they receive larger quantities of food (royal jelly) during development. Like emergency queen cells, supersedure queen cells typically are raised on the comb surface. In comparison, queen cells produced in preparation for swarming are found along the bottom margins of the frames or in gaps in the beeswax combs within the brood area.

Drones (male bees) are the largest bees in the colony. They are generally present only during late spring and summer. The drone’s head is much larger than that of either the queen or worker, and its compound eyes meet at the top of its head. Drones have no stinger, pollen baskets, or wax glands. Their main function is to fertilize the virgin queen during her mating flight. Drones become sexually mature about a week after emerging and die instantly upon mating. Although drones perform no useful work for the hive, their presence is believed to be important for normal colony functioning.

While drones normally rely on workers for food, they can feed themselves within the hive after they are 4 days old. Since drones eat three times as much food as workers, an excessive number of drones may place an added stress on the colony’s food supply. Drones stay in the hive until they are about 8 days old, after which they begin to take orientation flights. Flight from the hive normally occurs between noon and 4:00 p.m. Drones have never been observed taking food from flowers.

When cold weather begins in the fall and pollen/nectar resources become scarce, drones usually are forced out into the cold and left to starve. Queenless colonies, however, allow them to stay in the hive indefinitely.

Workers are the smallest and constitute the majority of bees occupying the colony. They are sexually undeveloped females and under normal hive conditions do not lay eggs. Workers have specialized structures, such as brood food glands, scent glands, wax glands, and pollen baskets, which allow them to perform all the labors of the hive. They clean and polish the cells, feed the brood, care for the queen, remove debris, handle incoming nectar, build beeswax combs, guard the entrance, and air-condition and ventilate the hive during their initial few weeks as adults. Later as field bees they forage for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant sap).

The life span of the worker during summer is about 6 weeks. Workers reared in the fall may live as long as 6 months, allowing the colony to survive the winter and assisting in the rearing of new generations in the spring before they die.

Laying Workers

When a colony becomes queenless, the ovaries of several workers develop and workers begin to lay unfertilized eggs. Development of the workers’ ovaries is believed to be inhibited by the presence of brood and the queen and her chemicals. The presence of laying workers in a colony usually means the colony has been queenless for one or more weeks. However, laying workers also may be found in normal “queenright” colonies during the swarming season and when the colony is headed by a poor queen. Colonies with laying workers are recognized easily: there may be anywhere from five to fifteen eggs per cell (Figure 3) and small-bodied drones are reared in worker-sized cells. In addition, laying workers scatter their eggs more randomly over the brood combs, and eggs can be found on the sides of the cell instead of at the base, where they are placed by a queen. Some of these eggs do not hatch, and many of the drone larvae that do hatch do not survive to maturity in the smaller cells.

Bee Development

All three types of adult honey bees pass through three developmental stages before emerging as adults: egg, larva, and pupa. The three stages are collectively labeled brood. While the developmental stages are similar, they do differ in duration (see Table 1). Unfertilized eggs become drones, while fertilized eggs become either workers or queens Nutrition plays an important part in caste development of female bees larvae destined to become workers receive less royal jelly and more a mixture of honey and pollen compared to the copious amounts of royal jelly that the queen larva receives.

Honey bee eggs are normally laid one per cell by the queen. Each egg is attached to the cell bottom and looks like a tiny grain of rice. When first laid, the egg stands straight up on end (Figure 4). However, during the 3-day development period the egg begins to bend over. On the third day, the egg hatches into a tiny grub and the larval stage begins.

Healthy larvae are pearly white in color with a glistening appearance. They are curled in a “C” shape on the bottom of the cell (Figure 5). Worker, queen, and drone cells are capped after larvae are approximately 5 ½, 6, and 6 ½ days old, respectively. During the larval stage, they are fed by adult worker (nurse) bees while still inside their beeswax cells. The period just after the cell is capped is called the prepupal stage. During this stage the larva is still grub-like in appearance but stretches itself out lengthwise in the cell and spins a thin silken cocoon. Larvae remain pearly white, plump, and glistening during the prepupal stage.

Within the individual cells capped with a beeswax cover provided by adult worker bees, the prepupae begin to change from their larval form to adult bees (Figure 6). Healthy pupae remain white and glistening during the initial stages of development, even though their bodies begin to take on adult forms. Compound eyes are the first feature begin to take on color changing from white to brownish-purple. Soon after this, the rest of the body begins to take on the color of an adult bee. New workers, queens, and drones emerge approximately 12, 7 ½, and 14 ½ days, respectively, after their cells are capped.

Brood Patterns
Healthy brood patterns are easily recognized when looking at capped brood. Frames of healthy capped worker brood normally have a solid pattern with few cells missed by the queen in her egg laying. Cappings are medium brown in color, convex, and without punctures (Figure 7). Because of developmental time, the ratio should be four times as many pupae as eggs and twice as many as larvae drone brood is usually in patches around the margins of comb.

Queen Biology

The biology of honey bee queens is a well researched field and many interesting facets of the honey bee life cycle are determined by the queen and the pheromones she produces. In the life cycle of honey bees, a worker and a queen are identical when in the egg and young larva stages. The difference between the two comes about through the feeding of the larva. Food is provisioned in to the cells of developing larvae by adult worker bees that secrete brood jelly from their mandibular glands after ingesting pollen, nectar, and bee bread. Queens are raised entirely on royal jelly, while workers are fed various combinations of larval jelly, pollen, and nectar. This diet influences the level of juvenile hormone produced by larvae and by the third day of larval development, the resulting caste of the adult is established based on the hormone level. The especially rich diet of larval queens allow them to develop very quickly, from egg to adult in about 16 days, while workers develop in about 21 days. The queen also develops into a larger adult form and the cell she pupates in must accommodate this size. Therefore an enlarged (conical shaped) queen cell is formed for the egg to be laid in, or developed around an existing egg in a worker cell. To learn more about queen cell development and worker differentiation, see this page.

Honey Bee Eggs

The life cycle of all insects, including honey bees, begins with eggs. During the winter season, a queen forms a new colony by laying eggs within each cell inside a honeycomb. Fertilized eggs will hatch into female worker bees, while unfertilized eggs will become drones or honey bee males. In order for one colony to survive, the queen must lay fertilized eggs to create worker bees, which forage for food and take care of the colony.

Each colony contains only one queen, which mates at an early age and collects more than 5 million sperm. A honey bee queen has one mating flight and stores enough sperm during the mating flight to lay eggs throughout her life. When a queen can no longer lay eggs, new queens become responsible for mating and laying honey bee eggs.

Honey bee eggs measure 1 to 1.5 mm long, about half the size of a single grain of rice. When the queen lays her eggs, she moves through the comb, closely examining each cell before laying her eggs. The process of laying one egg takes only a few seconds, and a queen is capable of laying up to 2,000 honey bee eggs within a single day.

A young queen lays her eggs using an organized pattern, placing each egg next to others within a cell. Queens begin laying their eggs in the center of the cell frame, so workers can place honey, royal jelly and other foods for larvae on the outer edges. However, as the queen ages, she lays fewer eggs in a less organized pattern.

When the queen lays a honey bee egg, it becomes attached to the cell by a mucous strand. During the first stage of development, the digestive system, nervous system and outer covering are formed. After three days, the eggs will hatch into larvae, which will be fed by worker honey bees with honey, royal jelly and other liquids from plants. These honey bee larvae have no legs, eyes, antennae or wings they resemble a grain of rice with a small mouth. They will eat and grow into adult workers, queens or drones.

4. Best Management Practices for Hive Equipment

A well-maintained and orderly apiary can translate into a successful beekeeping operation.

Why practice diligent hive maintenance?

Beekeepers agree that the most important piece of equipment in the apiary is the beehive, the home of the honey bee.

Hive Maintenance

  • Proper maintenance extends the life of the hive.
  • Check apiary for hive condition.
  • Inspect for rotten, loose or broken boards and frames.
  • Reconstruct, tighten or replace frame parts.
  • Paint supers with light colors to beat summer heat.
  • Take advantage of the winter months to do maintenance and prepare for the new season.

Inspect your essential two (2) pieces of equipment.

Maintain yard equipment.

  • Inspect and repair trucks, trailers, loaders and forklifts.
  • Repair bunkhouses, if applicable.
  • Eliminate trash in the apiary.
  • Practice fire safety when the bee smoker is in use.


  • Practice good hygiene with hands, gloves, and other equipment to reduce transmission of pathogens between colonies.
  • Replace comb with new foundation to minimize residual chemicals in old wax.
  • Develop a comb replacement schedule.
  • Purchase equipment only if it has a history of clean health.

Hive Security

  • Be aware that the probability of hive theft has increased with the increased value of pollinating crops.
  • Keep equipment simple to identify.
  • ID hives with a brand or name.
  • Secure a signed contract when entering into a “wintering deal.”
  • Practice discretion when showing where your yards are located.
  • Keep your equipment in good condition.
  • Good maintenance prolongs the life of hive parts, clothing, vehicles, and other equipment.
  • Good hygiene reduces the incidences of pests and diseases.
  • Hive security can minimize economic losses.

How do honeybees requeen themselves? - Biology

The Cape honey bee, Apis mellifera capensis Escholtz, is a subspecies of the western honey bee, Apis mellifera Linnaeus, that occurs naturally in the Cape region of South Africa (Fig. 1). Upon casual observation, Cape bees look very similar to another subspecies of honey bee present in South Africa, Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeltier (the 'African' honey bee of the Americas). Yet reproductively, Cape bees differ significantly from Apis mellifera scutellata and other honey bee subspecies, making it perhaps the most distinctive subspecies of Apis mellifera worldwide.

Figure 1. Cape honey bees, Apis mellifera capensis Escholtz, at a feeding station in South Africa. Photograph by Anthony Vaudo, University of Florida.

Distribution (Back to Top)

The natural distribution of Cape bees mirrors that of the Fynbos ecoregion in the southwestern section of South Africa. The Fynbos is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom (one of six floral kingdoms worldwide). This distinct ecoregion occupies a narrow strip of land stretching from the southwestern-most corner of South Africa, eastward to Port Elizabeth (Fig. 2). Even though it is small, the Fynbos region contains over 80% of the flower diversity found in the Cape Floral Kingdom, has more plants species than any area in the world, including tropical rain forests, and is able to support a remarkable diversity of life, from insects to higher animals.

Figure 2. Map demonstrating the geographic distribution of the Fynbos ecoregion. Figure by Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal.

The Cape honey bee distribution appears to be limited to the same geographic area as the Fynbos (Fig 3). Pure Cape honey bees are distributed in the Fynbos belt stretching from southwestern South Africa eastward to Port Elizabeth. However, Cape bees hybridize with Apis mellifera scutellata to the north. This zone of hybridization encompasses a narrow stretch of land just north of the Fynbos region. North of the zone of hybridization is the distribution of the 'pure' Apis mellifera scutellata population.

Figure 3. The distribution of Cape honey bees in South Africa (shaded gray). The area shaded black represents where Apis mellifera capensis and Apis mellifera scutellata hybridize. The checkered area indicates the natural distribution of Apis mellifera scutellata. Figure by Jane Medley, University of Florida, distribution data from Hepburn and Radloff (1998).

Description (Back to Top)

Queen: Under normal circumstances the adult queen bee is the primary reproductive female in a Cape honey bee colony. Her head and thorax are similar in size to that of the worker. However, the queen has a longer and plumper abdomen than a worker.

Workers: Adult worker honey bees are smaller than the queen and their bodies are specialized for pollen and nectar collection. Both hind legs of a worker bee have a corbicula (pollen basket) specially designed to carry large quantities of pollen back to the colony. Worker bees are sexually immature: they have reduced ovaries and are unable to mate.

Drones: Drones are the male caste. The adult drone&rsquos head and thorax are larger than the female castes, and their large eyes appear more &lsquofly-like,&rsquo touching in the top center of the head. Their abdomen is thick and blunt at the end, appearing bullet-shaped rather than pointy as with the females.

Cape honey bees undergo complete metamorphosis. This means that they have distinct developmental stages (egg, larvae, pupa, and adult). Typical developmental time from egg to adult varies by caste. Drones have the longest developmental time (24 days), workers are intermediate (21 days), and queens are the fastest (15-16 days).

Eggs: Eggs measure 1 to 1.5 mm long and look like a tiny grain of rice. Eggs are laid in individual hexagonal wax cells in the brood area of the comb. After 3 days, eggs hatch and larvae emerge.

Larvae: The number of days a honey bee spends as a larva varies by caste (worker: 6 days, drone: 6.5 days, queen: 5.5 days). Larvae are white and lay in a curled &ldquoC&rdquo shape at the bottom of their wax cell. When the mature larvae are ready to molt into pupae they extend their bodies into an upright position in the cell, and adult workers tending to the brood cover the prepupal larvae with a wax capping.

Pupae: Beneath the wax capping, prepupal honey bee larvae molt into pupae. The pupae remain under the wax capping until they molt into an adult and chew their way out of the cell. Similar to the larval stage, pupal developmental time varies by caste (worker: 12 days, drone: 14.5 days, queen: 8 days).

Adults: Adult honey bees are covered in branched hairs and can be divided into three body regions: head, thorax, and abdomen. The primary features of the head are the compound eyes and antennae. Two pair of wings and three pairs of legs attach to the thorax. A slender &lsquowaist&rsquo is created by a constriction of the second abdominal segment. The most notable external feature of the abdomen is the stinger. Only female honey bees have a stinger, as it originates from a modified ovipositor, and workers have a barbed stinger that is torn, with the poison sac, from the end of their abdomen when they deploy the sting into a tough-skinned victim.

Adult Cape honey bee workers have been distinguished from Apis mellifera scutellata and other subspecies of honey bees using morphometric techniques. Genetic analyses are also being used increasingly as complications with morphometric techniques arise. Most beekeepers in South Africa use other unique characteristics of the Cape honey bee to identify Cape honey bee colonies, namely:

1. the ability of worker bees to produce female offspring

2. the highly developed ovaries in Cape laying-workers, and

3. the identification of small, queenless swarms.

However, these characteristics are only informative once Cape honey bee colonies have already established.

Biology (Back to Top)

General Honey Bee Reproduction: For the most part, reproduction in Cape bees follows that of other honey bee subspecies. Honey bees have haplodiploid sex determination (Figure 4) unfertilized eggs (no paternal genetic contribution) develop into drones, and fertilized eggs (both maternal and paternal genetic contribution) develop into females. Female larvae that are fed the standard diet of pollen, nectar, and brood food become workers. Female larvae fed a rich diet of royal jelly, pollen, and nectar develop into queens.

Figure 4. Diagram of haplodiploid sex determination in the honey bee. Unfertilized eggs develop into drones, and fertilized eggs develop into females. Photographs by Alex Wild, Figure by Ashley Mortensen.

Queens are the reproductive individuals in honey bee colonies. When a queen emerges as an adult she will spend the first 10-14 days of her life maturing and mating. During this time, a queen bee will leave the colony in search of drones. Queens and drones mate in the air, at drone congregation areas, and the drones die while mating. Over the course of 1-3 mating flights a queen will mate with 10-20 drones. Queens store the semen collected in an organ called the spermatheca, and use the stored sperm to fertilize eggs for the rest of her life.

However, honey bee colonies may lose their queens for a number of reasons. This event usually results in the rearing of a new queen, a feat accomplished by worker bees that begin to nurture a young female larva originally produced by the now-deceased queen. Despite this safety mechanism, many colonies fail to requeen themselves before the female larvae in the colony become too old to become queens. Because of this, many colonies become hopelessly queenless and are destined to perish.

Despite the fact that the colony will die without a queen, it does have one last chance to pass its genetics on to other honey bees in the area. When a colony has become hopelessly queenless for a period of time (usually >2 weeks), some workers' ovaries will develop, and those workers will begin to oviposit. Workers are unable to mate so they produce haploid offspring that become drones. Drones produced from laying workers are sexually viable, thus they are able to mate with virgin queens from other colonies in the area.

Thelytoky: Unlike the haploid eggs produced by laying workers in other honey bee subspecies, some Cape laying workers can produce diploid eggs. The process in which Cape workers produce diploid eggs is called thelytokous parthenogenesis (Fig. 5) - they can produce male or female offspring without mating. In this system the Cape worker essentially produces a pseudo-clone of herself by fusing the egg pronucleus with one of the polar bodies that results during meiosis, thereby forming a diploid nucleus that continues to develop into a normal female bee (either a queen or worker).

Figure 5. Diagram of thelytokous parthenogenesis in a Cape honey bee laying worker. The Cape honey bee laying worker can produce a pseudo-clone of herself by fusing the egg pronucleus with one of the polar bodies that resulted from meiosis to create diploid offspring from unfertilized eggs. Photographs by Alex Wild, Figure by Ashley Mortensen.

A number of hypotheses have been proposed for the prevalence of thelytoky in Cape bees. Perhaps the leading hypothesis is that the Cape region of South Africa is very windy, and Cape colonies experience a significant queen loss when queens leave the colonies to mate. Colonies with thelytokous capabilities would not suffer the loss of a queen the same way as colonies without thelytokous capabilities, thus favoring the propagation of colonies with thelytokous workers.

It is important to note that thelytoky is not an exclusive trait of Cape bees. It is believed that workers from most, if not all, subspecies of honey bees are capable of laying diploid eggs. However, diploid eggs only occurs in <1% of worker-laid eggs of other honey bee subspecies. So while thelytoky is the exception in other honey bee subspecies, it is common in Cape honey bees

Thelytoky in Cape bees leads to a number of different important considerations. For example, worker offspring produced by Cape laying workers are a type of clone, being genetically identical to their mother (who provided both sets of chromosomes). Furthermore, the ability of workers to lay diploid eggs breeds a type of reproductive conflict not seen in colonies of other races of honey bees. For example, queenless Cape colonies have a number of options:

1. produce a new queen from a queen mother egg

2. produce a new queen from a worker-laid egg

3. proceed as a laying worker colony, or

4. proceed as a laying worker colony and later produce a queen from a worker-laid egg

Worker Policing: The ability of Cape workers to produce female offspring elicits another interesting behavior in Cape colonies - worker policing. Workers produced from one Cape laying worker can detect eggs oviposited by other laying workers and destroy or eat those eggs. This establishes a dominance hierarchy within Cape laying worker colonies where females from the same mother police the colony and destroy their aunts' offspring in favor of their own mother's offspring (their sisters).

Worker policing can lead to territory grabbing within colonies of Cape laying workers. Because a Cape laying worker colony is composed of many laying workers, all whose offspring are working to ensure their mother is the dominant laying force in the colony, bees produced by the same laying worker may congregate in the same area of the colony. So within a colony of Cape laying workers, one might find smaller 'sub-colonies,' each headed by a laying worker. This system is truly amazing and has advanced the study of the development of sociality and reproductive castes.

Queenless colonies of Cape bees can survive for some period of time and even rear a new queen from laying worker's eggs. However, if the colony fails to requeen itself, the population will eventually dwindle and the colony will die because even multiple laying workers cannot replace the reproductive output of a single queen.

Social Parasitism: Thelytoky enables the Cape honey bee to become socially parasitic. In that, Cape workers can invade another, non-related, honey bee colony and begin to reproduce clones of themselves that the host colony will rear to adulthood. These clones generally become laying workers themselves and further strain the host colony. Eventually the Cape clones become so numerous that there are not enough non-laying workers to sustain the host colony and the colony dwindles and dies.

Economic Importance (Back to Top)

Although the biology and behavior of Cape bees are fascinating, they present a problem for beekeepers in South Africa. Cape workers can parasitize colonies of any race of Apis mellifera. Migratory beekeepers managing Apis mellifera scutellata in the northern part of South Africa have moved bees into the Fynbos region of South Africa where the Cape bee is present (and the reciprocal also happens). This has allowed Cape workers to parasitize Apis mellifera scutellata colonies.

One example of this in the early 1990&rsquos has been named the &lsquocapensis calamity.&rsquo About 200 Cape honey bee colonies were moved into the northern part of South Africa and a single clonal linage of Cape laying workers infected more than 30,000 Apis mellifera scutellata colonies.

This is significant problem for beekeepers because if a colony is invaded by Cape bees, there are insufficient tools to &lsquofix&rsquo the colony. Once established in a colony of another subspecies Cape laying workers behave like cancer cells rapidly reproducing and draining colony resources while offering no benefit to the host. Infected colonies eventually dwindle and die at which point the remaining cape workers disperse to new host colonies.

Beekeepers in South Africa often consider Cape bees more of a threat to their colonies than the varroa mite, Varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman. Because of this, researchers globally have taken notice of Cape bees. Many fear that if Cape bees ever spread outside of South Africa, they may be a significant problem for beekeepers worldwide.

Management (Back to Top)

Cape bees are specialist foragers in the Fynbos ecoregion and they often perform poorly when taken outside of this region. So Apis mellifera scutellata colonies parasitized by Cape bees in the northern part of South Africa can become useless to beekeepers. Cape honey bees, colonies should not be moved between regions where Cape bees do and do not inhabit.

However, Cape bees can be managed for pollination and honey production, like all other subspecies of the western honey bee, within their native distribution. In fact, beekeepers in the Fynbos ecoregion use Cape bees as their bee of choice. Furthermore, Cape bees are generally docile, unlike other African bee races (especially Apis mellifera scutellata ). However, other aspects of Cape bees&rsquo behavior are similar to other African races of honey bees. For example Cape honey bees:

1. are 'flighty' on the comb (run on the comb when the colony is disturbed)

2. abscond (completely abandon the nest) readily in response to nest disturbances or diseases/pests

3. have smaller colonies than European races (an artifact of being in a warmer climate)

4. use copious amounts of propolis (resins collected from trees and plants - used as a weather-proofing agent and antibiotic in the colony), and

5. are well-suited to warm climates.

Selected References (Back to Top)

  • Du Preez, F. 2014. Fynbos honey - pride of South Africa's cape floristic kingdom. Bee World 91: 16-18.
  • Ellis JD, Zettel Nalen CM. Varroa destructor Anderson and Trueman (Arachnida: Acari: Varroidae). University of Florida, IFAS, Entomology and Nematology Department, Featured Creatures, EENY-473.(2013). (23 October 2014).
  • Ellis JD, Ellis A. Apis mellifera scutellata Lepeletier (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae). University of Florida, IFAS, Entomology and Nematology Department, Featured Creatures, EENY-429. (2012).(23 October 2014).
  • Hepburn HR. 2001. The enigmatic Cape honey bee, Apis mellifera capensis. Bee World 82: 181-191.
  • Hepburn HR, Radloff SE. 1998. Honeybees of Africa. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 370 pp.
  • Johannsmeier MF. 2001. Beekeeping in South Africa. Plant Protection Handbook No. 14, Agricultural Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa. 288 pp.
  • Mortensen AN, Schmehl DR, Ellis JD. Apis mellifera Linnaeus, and subspecies (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Apidae). University of Florida, IFAS, Entomology and Nematology Department, Featured Creatures, EENY 568.(August 2013). (23 October 2014).

Web Design: Don Wasik, Jane Medley
Publication Number: EENY- 513
Publication Date: December 2011. Major Revision: October 2014. Reviewed: December 2017.

LESSON 19: Requeening A Hive

WARNING: There is a push to make beekeeping appear practically hands free. New beekeepers are failing to implement best management practices. I want to be your mentor. I am currently accepting positions to mentor a limited number of beekeepers. You'll have access to my personal cell phone and private email. And you can send me videos or pictures of your hive when it just doesn't seem right or you don't know what's going on. You'll also receive 4 new instructional videos from me and a weekly tip of what you should be doing. Click here to see if spots are still available.

Welcome to Long Lane Honey Bee Farms Online Lessons! Visit our MAIN WEBSITE AT: We have a complete line of hives that we build right here in Illinois. We offer classes, sell queens and much more. Give us a call at: 217-427-2678. Our hours are: M-Th 10am-4pm, Fri 10-Noon Central Time.

As a beekeeper, you must understand several important factors regarding your queen. The queen is the most important bee in the entire colony. She lays the eggs. She determines the overall health and productivity of the colony. She even influences how hygienic her daughters are toward mites and disease. And though she may live four or five years, she will be at her best only for one to two years. After that, she needs replaced. Out of all the hives I have lost over the years, yearly requeening would have saved most of my hives.

The queen! You gotta love her. You know that when you go to bed at night, your queen is keeping order, giving directions and expanding your hive. She's in charge. You keep bees, but really the queen is the real bee keeper. The hive's success is kept under her watchful eye.
But here's another hard fact to face. Not all beekeepers replace their queens every year or two. Though requeening has so many positive benefits, it just takes time and it is expensive unless you raise your own queens. Therefore, many beekeepers don't bother, and yet they complain about how they didn't take off as much honey or how the hive has mites.

You should seriously consider requeening your hive once a year. You will have to determine where to buy your queen, from stock that you prefer. I don't like buying queens from others. Even though there are many impressive breeder queen suppliers, you just really never know the quality of your queen until she is released and goes to work in your hive.

I'll address queen stock in a moment, but for now, let's consider requeening a hive. Who? When? What? Where? and Why? These are questions surrounding requeening a hive. Beginners seem to be reluctant to requeen, because most beginners do not have the confidence yet to open a hive, maticulously search every frame until the queen is located, grab her in your hand, and put the hive back together quickly. But, it really isn't all that bad. Let me give you some tricks of the trade.

Simply put, here's how to requeen a hive. Find the old queen if the hive still has a queen, remove her and introduce the new queen. That's it. Sounds simple, and sometimes it is just that simple. However, more often than not, it takes a bit more work.

We've talked about why to requeen, not let's talk about when. September is often viewed as the best month to requeen because it allows your young queen time to become well established with her hive prior to winter. In fact, she may lay some good brood of winter bees. Winter bees live a month or two longer because they are not working much during their lifetime due to mainly riding out the winter in a cluster. And, when Spring arrives, a new queen will be ready to lay as the weather warms up. However, requeening in September is more difficult because during September there is not a heavy nectar flow and bees more readily accept a new queen during a heavy nectar flow.

I prefer September because it produces the most Spring benefits. However, it also carries with it the most liabilities. A liability might be that they bees will not accept her, and the weather may keep me from inspecting to insure she is accepted and laying well. Thus, there is a risk in removing an old laying queen for a new one, because the new one could be a dud, worse than the older one. No queen in September means no winter bees. you get the picture. It's worth the challenge, but it is a challenge.

Use marked queens. A marked queen helps you spot her, and lets you know if she has been replaced. For those of you living in the deep south and southwest, where there are reports of Africanized bees a marked queen ensures you that your queen has not been replaced by an Africanized queen.

Use a frame holder. Back in my early days of beekeeping, I had trouble finding my queens, because I could carefully search a frame, put it back in the hive, pull out another frame and never find her. Why not? Because I missed seeing her, or as soon as I started pulling a frame out, she would jump onto a frame that I had just inspected and placed back into the hive. The trick? Use a frame holder. We sell these simple frame holders that slip onto the top of the hive body so you can hang inspected frames outside the frame until your inspection is complete, preventing the queen from jumping back onto an inspected frame. Learn to spot the queen by those around her.
Click on the picture to the left and see if you can spot the queen. The bees have formed a partial circle near her.
When looking at a frame full of bees, if you can't find the queen try looking over the entire frame and observe how the bees are behaving.
Two things signal a queen. First, she is often encircled by bees. Not always, but often enough that you should look for this circle of bees. Secondly, bees get out of her way. In addition to these two signals, I've even tracked her down by her occasional sound she sometimes makes. It's almost like a faint sound of a smoke detector only more rapid and with a slight buzz. This is called piping. It is most common when a queen is newly released and it not heard so much from mated, established queens unless there is a new queen being introduced in a hive that already has a queen and the two are politicking for followers.
Look for freshly laid eggs. Another trick that I use is to carefully examine the unsealed brood cells. I look for freshly laid eggs. Ah, then I know the queen was at that cell not too long ago. It's sort of a bread crumb trail. I rarely find queens on full combs of honey or pollen, but mainly only on opened cell comb, that's just right for laying eggs.
I Found Her And Want To Replace Her. Now What Do I Do?
Normally, a queen will not sting. Unlike the working bee, the queen does not lose her stinger but it is rare for her to sting the beekeeper. I've never been stung by a queen, even when holding them captive in my hand between bee yards. But it is possible.
Usually if you are removing a queen to requeen a hive you probably do not want to use that queen in a nuc or another hive. You are requeening her usually because she is too aged or substandard. Let me put it nicely. She's done. I’ll leave it to your creative thinking as to how you wish to end her life.
Timing is important. You need to have your replacement queen on hand before you kill the substandard queen. Once you remove the old queen, wait at least 24 hours before introducing the new queen. You may even wait up to 2 days. However, remember that your bees will know that they are queenless and will begin to resolve their problem by raising their own queen from a fertilized egg. This is one way to requeen a hive, just allow the bees to raise their own queen. In doing it this way, you have to wait three to four weeks before she will emerge, mate and begin laying. And remember that by raising your own queen she will have most of the characteristics of her mother. That may or may not be what you want.
So, after waiting a couple of days, you can now introduce your new queen. Before doing so, check the hive to be sure there are no queen cells. You can remove sealed queen cells and use them in other hives such as splits, nucs or queenless hives by gently pressing them into the comb of a queenless hive.
How Do I Introduce A New Queen?
There are many ways to introduce a queen. It boils down to two basic methods. Direct release and indirect release. Direct release is rarely a good idea as the bees will usually "ball" the queen and kill her. On rare occasions I have directly released queens into queenless hives successfully. Once I covered the queen with honey, and set her near the entrance. Bees will come out, clean the honey off the queen, and usually she will walk in once she is well groomed. Sometimes I have sprayed down the hive with sugar water with peppermint extract in the water. The smell seems to neutralize the bees from attacking the queen.

On the other hand, the indirect release method allows the bees a chance to get used to the queen before she is free to walk among them. However, prior to her release, she must be in the hive, but kept safely from the bees who may want to initially kill her.

Old time beekeepers used a method that is still very successful even today, though many people have either never heard of it, or don't use it. It's a queen cage made out of hardware cloth, shaped like a square, about 1/2 - 3/4 inch tall with the bottom missing. It is pressed down over sealed comb with the queen inside, holding the queen within the cage. Be sure that no other bees are in the cage, only the queen. This gives time for the queen to be accepted by the other bees.
What has almost replaced this method is that of indirectly releasing the queen in cage she was shipped it, the mailing cage. These shipping cages are the same that are included with packaged bees. However, some queen suppliers are using a combination of a mailing cage and a push it screen cage.
Click on the two videos below to see the cages in greater details.

When your queen arrives in her mailing cage, the cage will have a candy plug on one end. You will have to remove the cork to expose the candy plug. Now, take a very small nail or pin, and carefully poke a very small hole through the candy plug. Be careful not to make it too large. And when you poke it through, be careful not to injure the queen on the other side. This hole will encourage the bees to begin to eat their way through the candy. This usually takes a couple of days.

Place the cage between the frames. By placing the candy plug up, the queen can always climb up and out and the opening will never be blocked by her dead attendants. By the time the candy plug has been eaten through, the queen will have become accepted within the hive. It is very important to wait one week before opening your hive after installing the new queen.

In one week, inspect the hive to ensure the queen is out of her cage, alive and if you have drawn comb you can inspect to see if she is laying.

Now, let's go back to the old fashioned cage that is pressed into the comb over capped brood. I like it! It works well. Any emerging bees within the caged area immediately take to their new queen. Her pheromone has a chance to spread over comb and on to other near by bees. This is a good method to use in September to help the queen become accepted in the absence of a nectar flow.

We make and sell these cages. Our cages do come with a small opening where you can insert a mini marshmallow. This serves as a candy plug, giving time for the bees to accept the queen while they eat through the marshmallow.

How Do I Select New Queens And Where Do I Find Good Suppliers
Trial and error will lead you to a good queen provider, and the supplier may or may not be a well known and long established breeder. You may find that the best queens are raised by the beekeeper down the road who has 30 or 40 hives and is willing to sell you sealed queen cells. I have pursued the various ads boasting of a great queen only to find didn't live up to how she was advertised. However, there are some suppliers who go to great lengths to raise the best possible quality queens.
Personally, I am more successful in operating my hives with survivor stock queens, queens that I find in barns and trees, feral queens who have already demonstrated that they can survive cold winters, mites, disease and swarm very little. I keep track of the hives in my yards that continue to survive year after year and produce an above average amount of honey and from these hives I raise my own queens.
I use a new queen rearing system that allows me to never have to graft eggs with tools. This system works great and can produce hundreds of queens in several easy steps. We also sell these systems. They are expensive, but can pay for themselves after producing just 10 queens. It is worth the investment.
Which Race Of Queen Is Better?
There are many races of queens each claiming to have unique characteristics. Here's a few common ones:
Italian, Minnesota Hygienic, Cordovan, Caucasians, Carniolans, Russian, and Buckfast . We’ll look at the different characteristic of these queens in our next lessons.
Please keep in mind that the Spring beekeeping season is fast upon us. I will begin brief inspections and placing pollen patties in my hives in less than 60 days! I will place all my supers on my hives in 120 days. That means I must get everything ready and in order within the next 120 days. There’s lots for me and you to do to get all of our beekeeping equipment ready for Spring. Let’s not put that off.

Merry Christmas from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
David & Sheri Burns


Although the life span of a worker bee is longer than that of a drone, it is generally only a few months, and rarely can survive a year. The life span is 1-2 months in summer and can be up to 6-8 months over autumn and winter. The lifespan of summer worker bees can increase to 6 months if placed in a colony that doesn't have a queen. [2]

Honey bee workers keep the hive temperature uniform in the critical brood area (where new bees are raised). This is in the centre frames of the brood box. Workers must maintain the hive's brood chamber at 34.4 °C to incubate the eggs. If it is too hot, they collect water and deposit it around the hive, then fan air through with their wings causing cooling by evaporation. If it is too cold, they cluster together to generate body heat. This is an example of homeostasis.

The life of all honey bees starts as an egg, which is laid by the queen in the bottom of a wax cell in the brood area of a hive. A worker egg hatches after three days into a larva. Nurse bees feed it royal jelly at first, then pollen and honey for six days. It then becomes an inactive pupa.

During its 14 days as a pupa, sealed in a capped cell, it grows into a worker (female) bee, emerging on the 21st day. In most species of honey bees, workers do everything but lay eggs and mate, though Cape honey bee workers can lay eggs. They build the comb from wax extruded from glands under their abdomen. When fully developed, they perform a number of tasks (see below).

When a colony absconds (all bees leave the colony) or divides and so creates a swarm and then establishes a new colony, the bees must regress in their behaviour in order to establish the first generation in the new home. The most urgent task will be the creation of new beeswax for comb. Comb is much more difficult to come by than honey and requires about six times the energy to create. A newly hived swarm on bars (top bar hive) or empty foundation (Langstroth box hive) will often be fed sugar water, which they can then rapidly consume to create wax for new comb. (Mature hives cannot be so fed as they will store it in place of nectar, although a wintering hive may have to be fed if insufficient honey was left by the beekeeper.)

Cell cleaning (days 1–2) Edit

Brood cells must be cleaned before the next use. Cells will be inspected by the queen and if unsatisfactory they will not be used. Worker bees in the cleaning phase will perform this cleaning. If the cells are not clean, the worker bee must do it again and again.

Nurse bee (days 3–12) Edit

Nurse bees feed the worker larvae worker jelly which is secreted from glands that produce royal jelly. They will also go into the special cells to create a semi-royal jelly that is similar to the royal but it tastes more like honey.

  • Advanced Nurse Bees (days 6–12)
    • Nurse Bees will then feed royal jelly to the queen larva and drones receive worker jelly for 1 to 3 days at which time they are started on a diet of honey.

    Wax production (days 13–18) Edit

    Wax bees build cells from wax, repair old cells, and store nectar and pollen brought in by other workers. Early in the worker's career she will exude wax from the space between several of her abdominal segments. Four sets of wax glands, situated inside the last four ventral segments of the abdomen, produce wax for comb construction.

    Honey sealing Edit

    Mature honey, sufficiently dried, is sealed tightly with wax by workers deputized to do this. Sealing prevents absorption of moisture from the air.

    Drone feeding Edit

    Drones do not feed themselves when they are young they are fed by workers and then when the drone bees get older they feed themselves from the honey supply.

    Queen Attendants (days 7-11) Edit

    Queen attendants take care of the queen by feeding and grooming her. Yet, even more important is their incidental role in spreading queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) throughout the hive. This is a pheromone given off by the queen. After coming into contact with the queen, the attendants spread QMP throughout the hive, which is a signal to the rest of the bees that the hive still has a viable queen.

    Honeycomb building Edit

    Workers will take wax from wax producing workers and build the comb with it.

    Pollen packing Edit

    Pollen brought into the hive for feeding the brood is also stored. It must be packed firmly into comb cells and mixed with a small amount of honey so that it will not spoil. Unlike honey, which does not support bacterial life, stored pollen will become rancid without proper care. It has to be kept in honey cells.

    Propolizing Edit

    The walls of the hive are covered with a thin coating of propolis, a resinous substance obtained from plants. When workers add enzymes to the propolis, the combination has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Propolis is placed at the entrance of hives to aid in ventilation.

    Some bees add excess mud to the mixture, making it geopropolis, such as in the bee Melipona scutellaris. [3] Geopropolis displays antimicrobial and antiproliferative activity and has been proven to be a source of antibiofilm agents. It also presents selectivity against human cancer cell lines at low concentrations compared to normal cells. [4]

    Mortuary bees Edit

    Dead bees and failed larvae must be removed from the hive to prevent disease and allow cells to be reused. They will be carried some distance from the hive by mortuary bees.

    Fanning bees Edit

    Worker bees fan the hive, cooling it with evaporated water. [5] They direct airflow into the hive or out of the hive depending on need.

    Water carriers Edit

    When the hive is in danger of overheating, these bees will obtain water, usually from within a short distance from the hive and bring it back to spread on the backs of fanning bees.

    Guard bees Edit

    Guard bees will stand at the front of the hive entrance, defending it from any invaders such as wasps. The number of guards varies from season to season and from species to species. Entrance size and daily traffic also play an integral role in the number of guard bees present. Guard bees of the species Tetragonisca angustula and Schwarziana quadripunctata are examples of eusocial bees that have been observed hovering at their nest entrances, providing more protection against intruders. [6] [7]

    Foraging bees (days 22–42) Edit

    The forager and scout bees travel up to 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) to a nectar source, pollen source or to collect propolis.

    In most common bee species, worker bees are infertile due to enforced altruistic kin selection, [8] and thus never reproduce. Workers are nevertheless considered female for anatomical and genetic reasons. Genetically, a worker bee does not differ from a queen bee and can even become a laying worker bee, but in most species will produce only male (drone) offspring. Whether a larva becomes a worker or a queen depends on the kind of food it is given after the first three days of its larval form.

    The workers perform different behavioural tasks in the colony that cause them to be exposed to different local environments. The worker gut microbial community composition is found to be associated with the behavioural tasks they perform, therefore also with the local environment they are exposed to [9] and the environmental landscape is shown to affect the gut microbial community (gut microbiota composition) of honey bees. [10]

    The worker bee's stinger is a complex organ that allows a bee to defend itself and the hive from most mammals. Attacking bees aim for the face by sensing regions with high levels of carbon dioxide (like mosquitos). Bee stings against mammals and birds typically leave the stinger embedded in the victim due to the structure of flesh and the stinger's barbs. In this case, the venom bulb stays with the stinger and continues to pump. The bee will die after losing its stinger, as the removal of the stinger and the venom bulb damages or removes other internal organs as well.

    The barbs on the stinger will not catch on most animals besides mammals and birds, which means that such animals can be stung many times by the same bee.

    The worker bee is a symbol of Manchester, England. [11] [12] It was adopted as a motif for Manchester during the Industrial Revolution, at a time when Manchester was taking a leading role in new forms of mass production, and symbolises Mancunians' hard work during this era and Manchester being a hive of activity in the 19th century. [13] [14]

    Following the Manchester Arena attack on Monday 22 May 2017, the bee emblem gained popularity as a public symbol of unity against terrorism, appearing on protest banners and graffiti.

    The song "Worker Bees", by Canadian rock band Billy Talent (from their 2006 album, Billy Talent II), criticizes the actions of the U.S military during their ongoing invasion of middle east comparing it to the hive mind mentality of worker bees.

    There are many types of eusocial bees, including bumble bees, stingless bees, some orchid bees, and many species of sweat bees, native to all continents except for Antarctica, that have workers. Workers in these other bee lineages do not show significant morphological differences from queens, other than coloration or a smaller average body size, though they are often quite different in their behavior from queens, and may or may not lay eggs. See the respective articles for these lineages for details.


    There are 29 recognized subspecies of Apis mellifera based largely on geographic variations. All subspecies are cross-fertile. Geographic isolation led to numerous local adaptations. These adaptations include brood cycles synchronized with the bloom period of local flora, forming a winter cluster in colder climates, migratory swarming in Africa, enhanced (long-distance) foraging behavior in desert areas, and numerous other inherited traits.

    The Africanized honey bees in the Western Hemisphere are descended from hives operated by biologist Warwick E. Kerr, who had interbred honey bees from Europe and southern Africa. Kerr was attempting to breed a strain of bees that would produce more honey in tropical conditions than the European strain of honey bee currently in use throughout North, Central and South America. The hives containing this particular African subspecies were housed at an apiary near Rio Claro, São Paulo, in the southeast of Brazil, and were noted to be especially defensive. These hives had been fitted with special excluder screens (called queen excluders) to prevent the larger queen bees and drones from getting out and mating with the local population of European bees. According to Kerr, in October 1957 a visiting beekeeper, noticing that the queen excluders were interfering with the worker bees' movement, removed them, resulting in the accidental release of 26 Tanganyikan swarms of A. m. scutellata. Following this accidental release, the Africanized honey bee swarms spread out and crossbred with local European honey bee colonies.

    The descendants of these colonies have since spread throughout the Americas, moving through the Amazon Basin in the 1970s, crossing into Central America in 1982, and reaching Mexico in 1985. [5] Because their movement through these regions was rapid and largely unassisted by humans, Africanized honey bees have earned the reputation of being a notorious invasive species. [6] The prospect of killer bees arriving in the United States caused a media sensation in the late 1970s, inspired several horror movies, [7] and sparked debate about the wisdom of humans altering entire ecosystems.

    The first Africanized honey bees in the U.S. were discovered in 1985 at an oil field in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Bee experts theorized the colony had not traveled overland but instead "arrived hidden in a load of oil-drilling pipe shipped from South America." [8] The first permanent colonies arrived in Texas from Mexico in 1990. [2] In the Tucson region of Arizona, a study of trapped swarms in 1994 found that only 15 percent had been Africanized this number had grown to 90 percent by 1997. [9]

    Though Africanized honey bees display certain behavioral traits that make them less than desirable for commercial beekeeping, excessive defensiveness and swarming foremost, they have now become the dominant type of honey bee for beekeeping in Central and South America due to their genetic dominance as well as ability to out-compete their European counterpart, with some beekeepers asserting that they are superior honey producers and pollinators.

    Africanized honey bees, as opposed to other Western bee types:

    • Tend to swarm more frequently and go farther than other types of honey bees.
    • Are more likely to migrate as part of a seasonal response to lowered food supply.
    • Are more likely to "abscond"—the entire colony leaves the hive and relocates—in response to stress.
    • Have greater defensiveness when in a resting swarm, compared to other honey bee types.
    • Live more often in ground cavities than the European types.
    • Guard the hive aggressively, with a larger alarm zone around the hive.
    • Have a higher proportion of "guard" bees within the hive.
    • Deploy in greater numbers for defense and pursues perceived threats over much longer distances from the hive.
    • Cannot survive extended periods of forage deprivation, preventing introduction into areas with harsh winters or extremely dry late summers.
    • Live in dramatically higher population densities. [Michener 1975 1] ​ [10] ​ [Michener 1975 2] ​

    Africanized honey bees are considered an invasive species in the Americas. As of 2002, the Africanized honey bees had spread from Brazil south to northern Argentina and north to Central America, Trinidad (the West Indies), Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, and southern California. Their expansion stopped for a time at eastern Texas, possibly due to the large population of European honey bee hives in the area. However, discoveries of the Africanized honey bees in southern Louisiana show that they have gotten past this barrier, [11] or have come as a swarm aboard a ship.

    In June 2005, it was discovered that the bees had entered Texas and had spread into southwest Arkansas. On 11 September 2007, Commissioner Bob Odom of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry said that Africanized honey bees had established themselves in the New Orleans area. [12] In February 2009, Africanized honey bees were found in southern Utah. [13] [14] The bees had spread into eight counties in Utah, as far north as Grand and Emery Counties by May 2017. [15]

    In October 2010, a 73-year-old man was killed by a swarm of Africanized honey bees while clearing brush on his south Georgia property, as determined by Georgia's Department of Agriculture. In 2012, Tennessee state officials reported that a colony was found for the first time in a beekeeper's colony in Monroe County in the eastern part of the state. [16] In June 2013, 62-year-old Larry Goodwin of Moody, Texas was killed by a swarm of Africanized honey bees. [17]

    In May 2014, Colorado State University confirmed that bees from a swarm which had aggressively attacked an orchardist near Palisade, in west-central Colorado, were from an Africanized honey bee hive. The hive was subsequently destroyed. [18]

    In tropical climates they effectively out-compete European honey bees and, at their peak rate of expansion, they spread north at almost two kilometers (about one mile) a day. There were discussions about slowing the spread by placing large numbers of docile European-strain hives in strategic locations, particularly at the Isthmus of Panama, but various national and international agricultural departments could not prevent the bees' expansion. Current knowledge of the genetics of these bees suggests that such a strategy, had it been tried, would not have been successful. [19]

    As the Africanized honey bee migrates further north, colonies continue to interbreed with European honey bees. In a study conducted in Arizona in 2004 it was observed that swarms of Africanized honey bees could take over weakened European honey bee hives by invading the hive, then killing the European queen and establishing their own queen. [20] There are now relatively stable geographic zones in which either Africanized honey bees dominate, a mix of Africanized and European honey bees is present, or only non-Africanized honey bees are found, as in the southern portions of South America or northern North America.

    African honey bees abscond (abandon the hive and any food store to start over in a new location) more readily than European honeybees. This is not necessarily a severe loss in tropical climates where plants bloom all year, but in more temperate climates it can leave the colony with not enough stores to survive the winter. Thus Africanized honey bees are expected to be a hazard mostly in the southern states of the United States, reaching as far north as the Chesapeake Bay in the east. The cold-weather limits of the Africanized honey bee have driven some professional bee breeders from Southern California into the harsher wintering locales of the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range. This is a more difficult area to prepare bees for early pollination placement in, such as is required for the production of almonds. The reduced available winter forage in northern California means that bees must be fed for early spring buildup.

    The arrival of the Africanized honey bee in Central America is threatening the ancient art of keeping Melipona stingless bees in log gums, although they do not interbreed or directly compete with each other. The honey production from a single hive of Africanized honey bees can be 100 kg annually and far exceeds the much smaller 3–5 kg of the various Melipona stingless bee species. Thus economic pressures are forcing beekeepers to switch from the traditional stingless bees of their ancestors to the new reality of the Africanized honey bee. Whether this will lead to their extinction is unknown, but they are well adapted to exist in the wild, and there are a number of indigenous plants that the Africanized honey bees do not visit, so their fate remains to be seen.

    Africanized honey bees have a set of characteristics with respect to foraging behavior. Africanized honey bees begin foraging at young ages and harvest a greater quantity of pollen with respect to their European counterparts (Apis mellifera ligustica). This may be linked to the high reproductive rate of the Africanized honey bee which requires pollen to feed the greater number of larvae. [21] Africanized honey bees are also sensitive to sucrose at lower concentrations. This adaptation causes foragers to harvest resources with low concentrations of sucrose that include water, pollen, and unconcentrated nectar. A study comparing A. m. scutellata and A. m. ligustica published by Fewell and Bertram in 2002 suggests that the differential evolution of this suite of behaviors is due to the different environmental pressures experienced by African and European subspecies. [22]

    Proboscis extension responses Edit

    Honey bee sensitivity to different concentrations of sucrose is determined by a reflex known as the proboscis extension response or PER. Different species of honey bees that employ different foraging behaviors will vary in the concentration of sucrose that elicits their proboscis extension response. [23]

    For example, European honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) forage at older ages and harvest less pollen and more concentrated nectar. The differences in resources emphasized during harvesting are a result of the European honey bee's sensitivity to sucrose at higher concentrations. [24]

    Evolution Edit

    The differences in a variety of behaviors between different species of honey bees are the result of a directional selection that acts upon several foraging behavior traits as a common entity. [24] Selection in natural populations of honey bees show that positive selection of sensitivity to low concentrations of sucrose are linked to foraging at younger ages and collecting resources low in sucrose. Positive selection of sensitivity to high concentrations of sucrose were linked to foraging at older ages and collecting resources higher in sucrose. [24] Additionally of interest, “change in one component of a suite of behaviors appear[s] to direct change in the entire suite.” [24] [25] [a] [b]

    When resource density is low in Africanized honey bee habitats, it is necessary for the bees to harvest a greater variety of resources because they cannot afford to be selective. Honey bees that are genetically inclined towards resources high in sucrose like concentrated nectar will not be able to sustain themselves in harsher environments. The noted PER to low sucrose concentration in Africanized honey bees may be a result of selective pressure in times of scarcity when their survival depends on their attraction to low quality resources. [26]

    The popular term "killer bee" has only limited scientific meaning today because there is no generally accepted fraction of genetic contribution used to establish a cut-off.

    Morphological tests Edit

    Although the native East African lowland honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) are smaller and build smaller comb cells than the European honey bees, their hybrids are not smaller. Africanized honey bees have slightly shorter wings, which can only be recognized reliably by performing a statistical analysis on micro-measurements of a substantial sample.

    One of the problems with this test is that there are other subspecies, such as Apis mellifera iberiensis, which also have shortened wings. This trait is hypothesized to derive from ancient hybrid haplotypes thought to have links to evolutionary lineages from Africa. Some belong to Apis mellifera intermissa, but others have an indeterminate origin the Egyptian honeybee (Apis mellifera lamarckii), present in small numbers in the southeastern U.S., has the same morphology.

    DNA tests Edit

    Currently testing techniques have moved away from external measurements to DNA analysis, but this means the test can only be done by a sophisticated laboratory. Molecular diagnostics using the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) cytochrome b gene can differentiate A. m. scutellata from other A. mellifera lineages, though mtDNA only allows one to detect Africanized colonies that have Africanized queens and not colonies where a European queen has mated with Africanized drones. [27] A test based on single nucleotide polymorphisms was created in 2015 to detect Africanized bees based on the proportion of African and European ancestry. [28]

    Western variants Edit

    The western honey bee is native to the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. As of the early 1600s, it was introduced to North America, with subsequent introductions of other European subspecies 200 years later. [29] Since then, they have spread throughout the Americas. The 29 subspecies can be assigned to one of four major branches based on work by Ruttner and subsequently confirmed by analysis of mitochondrial DNA. African subspecies are assigned to branch A, northwestern European subspecies to branch M, southwestern European subspecies to branch C, and Mideast subspecies to branch O. The subspecies are grouped and listed. There are still regions with localized variations that may become identified subspecies in the near future, such as A. m. pomonella from the Tian Shan Mountains, which would be included in the Mideast subspecies branch.

    The western honey bee is the third insect whose genome has been mapped, and is unusual in having very few transposons. According to the scientists who analyzed its genetic code, the western honey bee originated in Africa and spread to Eurasia in two ancient migrations. [30] They have also discovered that the number of genes in the honey bee related to smell outnumber those for taste. [31] The genome sequence revealed several groups of genes, particularly the genes related to circadian rhythms, were closer to vertebrates than other insects. Genes related to enzymes that control other genes were also vertebrate-like. [32]

    African variants Edit

    There are two lineages of the East African lowland subspecies (Apis mellifera scutellata) in the Americas: actual matrilineal descendants of the original escaped queens and a much smaller number that are Africanized through hybridization. The matrilineal descendants carry African mtDNA, but partially European nuclear DNA, while the honey bees that are Africanized through hybridization carry European mtDNA, and partially African nuclear DNA. The matrilineal descendants are in the vast majority. This is supported by DNA analyses performed on the bees as they spread northwards those that were at the "vanguard" were over 90% African mtDNA, indicating an unbroken matriline, [33] but after several years in residence in an area interbreeding with the local European strains, as in Brazil, the overall representation of African mtDNA drops to some degree. However, these latter hybrid lines (with European mtDNA) do not appear to propagate themselves well or persist. [34] Population genetics analysis of Africanized honey bees in the United States, using a maternally inherited genetic marker, found 12 distinct mitotypes, and the amount of genetic variation observed supports the idea that there have been multiple introductions of AHB into the United States. [35]

    A newer publication shows the genetic admixture of the Africanized honey bees in Brazil. The small number of honey bees with African ancestry that were introduced to Brazil in 1956, which dispersed and hybridized with existing managed populations of European origin and quickly spread across much of the Americas, is an example of a massive biological invasion as earlier told in this article. Here, they analysed whole‐genome sequences of 32 Africanized honey bees sampled from throughout Brazil to study the effect of this process on genome diversity. By comparison with ancestral populations from Europe and Africa, they infer that these samples had 84% African ancestry, with the remainder from western European populations. However, this proportion varied across the genome and they identified signals of positive selection in regions with high European ancestry proportions. These observations are largely driven by one large gene‐rich 1.4 Mbp segment on chromosome 11 where European haplotypes are present at a significantly elevated frequency and likely confer an adaptive advantage in the Africanized honey bee population. [36]

    The chief difference between the European subspecies of honey bees kept by beekeepers and the African ones is attributable to both selective breeding and natural selection. By selecting only the most gentle, non-defensive subspecies, beekeepers have, over centuries, eliminated the more defensive ones and created a number of subspecies suitable for apiculture. The most common subspecies used in Europe and the United States today is the Italian honey bee (Apis mellifera ligustica), which has been used for over 1,000 years in some parts of the world and in the Americas since the arrival of the European colonists. [ citation needed ]

    In Central and southern Africa there was formerly no tradition of beekeeping, and the hive was destroyed in order to harvest the honey, pollen and larvae. The bees adapted to the climate of Sub-Saharan Africa, including prolonged droughts. Having to defend themselves against aggressive insects such as ants and wasps, as well as voracious animals like the honey badger, African honey bees evolved as a subspecies group of highly defensive bees unsuitable by a number of metrics for domestic use. [ citation needed ]

    As Africanized honey bees migrate into regions, hives with an old or absent queen can become hybridized by crossbreeding. The aggressive Africanized drones out-compete European drones for a newly developed queen of such a hive, ultimately resulting in hybridization of the existing colony. Requeening, a term for swapping out the old queen with a new, already fertilized one, can reduce hybridization in apiaries. As a prophylactic measure, the majority of beekeepers in North America tend to requeen their hives annually, maintaining strong colonies and avoiding hybridization.

    Defensiveness Edit

    Africanized honey bees exhibit far greater defensiveness than European honey bees and are more likely to deal with a perceived threat by attacking in large swarms. [37] These hybrids have been known to pursue a perceived threat for a distance of well over 500 meters (1,640 ft). [ citation needed ]

    The venom of an Africanized honey bee is the same as that of a European honey bee, but since the former tends to sting in far greater numbers, deaths from them are naturally more numerous than from European honey bees. [38] While allergies to the European honey bee may cause death, complications from Africanized honey bee stings are usually not caused from allergies to their venom. Humans stung many times by the Africanized honey bees can exhibit serious side effects such as inflammation of the skin, dizziness, headaches, weakness, edema, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Some cases even progress to affecting different body systems by causing increased heart rates, respiratory distress, and even renal failure. [39] [40] Africanized honey bee sting cases can become very serious, but they remain relatively rare and are often limited to accidental discovery in highly populated areas.

    Fear factor Edit

    The Africanized honey bee is widely feared by the public, [41] a reaction that has been amplified by sensationalist movies (such as The Swarm) and some of the media reports. Stings from Africanized honey bees kill on average one or two people per year. [42]

    As the Africanized honey bee spreads through Florida, a densely populated state, officials worry that public fear may force misguided efforts to combat them.

    News reports of mass stinging attacks will promote concern and in some cases panic and anxiety, and cause citizens to demand responsible agencies and organizations to take action to help ensure their safety. We anticipate increased pressure from the public to ban beekeeping in urban and suburban areas. This action would be counter-productive. Beekeepers maintaining managed colonies of domestic European bees are our best defense against an area becoming saturated with AHB. These managed bees are filling an ecological niche that would soon be occupied by less desirable colonies if it were vacant.

    Misconceptions Edit

    "Killer bee" is a term frequently used in media such as movies that portray aggressive behavior or actively seeking to attack humans. "Africanized honey bee" is considered a more descriptive term in part because their behavior is increased defensiveness compared to European honey bees that can exhibit similar defensive behaviors when disturbed. [ clarification needed ] [44]

    The sting of the Africanized honey bee is no more potent than any other variety of honey bee, and although they are similar in appearance to European honey bees, they tend to be slightly smaller and darker in color. Although Africanized honey bees do not actively search for humans to attack, they are more dangerous because they are more easily provoked, quicker to attack in greater numbers, and then pursue the perceived threat farther, sometimes for up to a kilometer (approx. 5 ⁄ 8 mile) or more. [ citation needed ]

    While studies have shown that Africanized honey bees can infiltrate European honey bee colonies and then kill and replace their queen (thus usurping the hive), this is less common than other methods. Wild and managed colonies will sometimes be seen to fight over honey stores during the dearth (periods when plants are not flowering), but this behavior should not be confused with the aforementioned activity. The most common way that a European honey bee hive will become Africanized is through crossbreeding during a new queen's mating flight. Studies have consistently shown that Africanized drones are more numerous, stronger and faster than their European cousins and are therefore able to out-compete them during these mating flights. The results of mating between Africanized drones and European queens is almost always Africanized offspring. [45]

    In areas of suitable temperate climate, the survival traits of Africanized honey bee colonies help them outperform European honey bee colonies. They also return later and basically work under conditions that often keep European honey bees hive-bound. This is the reason why they have gained a well-deserved reputation as superior honey producers, and those beekeepers who have learned to adapt their management techniques now seem to prefer them to their European counterparts. Studies show that in areas of Florida that contain Africanized honey bees, the honey production is higher than in areas in which they do not live. [46] It is also becoming apparent that Africanized honey bees have another advantage over European honey bees in that they seem to show a higher resistance to several health issues, including parasites such as Varroa destructor, some fungal diseases like chalkbrood and even the mysterious colony collapse disorder which is currently plaguing beekeepers. So despite all its negative factors, it is possible that the Africanized honey bee might actually end up being a boon to apiculture.

    Queen management Edit

    In areas where Africanized honey bees are well established, bought and pre-fertilized (i.e. mated) European queens can be used to maintain a hive's European genetics and behavior. However, this practice can be expensive, since these queens must be bought and shipped from breeder apiaries in areas completely free of Africanized honey bees, such as the northern U.S. states or Hawaii. As such, this is generally not practical for most commercial beekeepers outside the U.S., and it is one of the main reasons why Central and South American beekeepers have had to learn to manage and work with the existing Africanized honey bee. [ citation needed ] Any effort to crossbreed virgin European queens with Africanized drones will result in the offspring exhibiting Africanized traits only 26 swarms escaped in 1957, and nearly 60 years later there does not appear to be a noticeable lessening of the typical Africanized characteristics.

    Gentleness Edit

    Not all Africanized honey bee hives display the typical hyper-defensive behavior, which may provide bee breeders a point to begin breeding a gentler stock [47] (gAHBs). [48] [49] Work has been done in Brazil towards this end, but in order to maintain these traits, it is necessary to develop a queen breeding and mating facility in order to requeen colonies and to prevent reintroduction of unwanted genes or characteristics through unintended crossbreeding with feral colonies. In Puerto Rico, some bee colonies are already beginning to show more gentle behavior. This is believed to be because the more gentle bees contain genetic material that is more similar to the European honey bee, although they also contain Africanized honey bee material. [49] This degree of aggressiveness is surprisingly almost unrelated to individual genetics - instead being almost entirely determined by the entire hive's proportion of aggression genetics. [50] [48] Also while bee incidents are much less common than they were during the first wave of Africanized honey bee colonization, this can be largely attributed to modified and improved bee management techniques. Prominent among these are locating bee-yards much further from human habitation, creating barriers to keep livestock at enough of a distance to prevent interaction, and education of the general public to teach them how to properly react when feral colonies are encountered and what resources to contact. The Africanized honey bee is considered the honey bee of choice for beekeeping in Brazil. [51] [52]

    AHBs are a threat to outdoor pets, especially mammals. The most detailed information available pertains to dogs. [53] [54]

    Less is known about livestock as victims than is known about dogs as victims. [54] There is a widespread consensus that cattle are suffering occasional AHB attacks in Brazil, but there is little documentation about this. [54] It appears that cows sustain hundreds of stings if they are attacked, but can survive with injury. [54]

    Misconception #5—That “Natural Beekeeping” is New

    I’m surprised by those who tout “natural beekeeping” as being something new and revolutionary! Folks, we were all “natural” beekeepers before varroa arrived (and my Australian friends are all “natural” beekeepers still). We all kept bees on “organic” natural beeswax foundation, in “natural” pine boxes, and most of us on “natural” forage. In fact, a number of cheapskate beekeepers cut costs by making the bees draw foundationless combs. The only argument in those days was whether or not to prophylactically treat with antibiotics for AFB. I personally choose to eschew synthetic miticides, antibiotics, and syrup feeding in general in my own operation, but I don’t feel that gives me the right to criticize others.

    The migratory beekeepers who move bees from crop to crop are doing nothing more unnatural than herding their livestock to better pasture, or than the “natural” migrations of Apis dorsata or Apis mellifera scutellata (the Giant and Savannah honey bees). Clearly, moving bees on semitrailers to pesticide-laden crops is not “natural,” but neither is buying factory-farmed cheap food at the supermarket. The commercial migratory pollinators should be thought of as hard-working heroes, and a critical player in agricultural production.

    Bees “naturally” live in irregular tree cavities far off the ground, not in rectangular boxes located at knee level. And as soon as you set up an apiary of a few dozen hives, you have created an unnaturally crowded situation—and are now engaged in a concentrated livestock operation. Plus, there is nothing “natural” about taking their honey, feeding them syrup, or opening a hive and disturbing them.

    Whew! Glad that I got that off my chest! (No offense to Ross Conrad or the “organic” beekeepers, as I strongly support their efforts to return to beekeeping without synthetic miticides).

    The Secret Life of Bees

    On the front porch of an old Coast Guard station on Appledore Island, seven miles off the southern coast of Maine, Thomas Seeley and I sat next to 6,000 quietly buzzing bees. Seeley wore a giant pair of silver headphones over a beige baseball cap, a wild fringe of hair blowing out the back next to him was a video camera mounted on a tripod. In his right hand, Seeley held a branch with a lapel microphone taped to the end. He was recording the honeybee swarm huddling inches away on a board nailed to the top of a post.

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    Seeley, a biologist from Cornell University, had cut a notch out of the center of the board and inserted a tiny screened box called a queen cage. It housed a single honeybee queen, along with a few attendants. Her royal scent acted like a magnet on the swarm.

    If I had come across this swarm spread across my back door, I would have panicked. But here, sitting next to Seeley, I felt a strange calm. The insects thrummed with their own business. They flew past our faces. They got caught in our hair, pulled themselves free and kept flying. They didn’t even mind when Seeley gently swept away the top layer of bees to inspect the ones underneath. He softly recited a poem by William Butler Yeats:

    I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, 
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
    Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

    A walkie-talkie on the porch rail chirped.

    “Pink bee headed your way,” said Kirk Visscher, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside. Seeley, his gaze fixed on the swarm, found the walkie-talkie with his left hand and brought it to his mouth.

    “We wait with bated breath,” he said.

    “Breath. Bated. Over.” Seeley set the walkie-talkie back on the rail without taking his eyes off the bees.

    A few minutes later, a honeybee scout flew onto the porch and alighted on the swarm. She (all scouts are female) wore a pink dot on her back.

    “Ah, here she is. Pink has landed,” Seeley said.

    Pink was exploring the island in search of a place where the honeybees could build a new hive. In the spring, if a honeybee colony has grown large enough, swarms of thousands of bees with a new queen will split off to look for a new nest. It takes a swarm anywhere from a few hours to a few days to inspect its surroundings before it finally flies to its newly chosen home. When Pink had left Seeley’s swarm earlier in the morning, she was not yet pink. Then she flew to a rocky cove on the northeast side of the island, where she discovered a wooden box and went inside. Visscher was sitting in front of it under a beach umbrella, with a paintbrush hanging from his lips. When the bee emerged from the box, Visscher flicked his wrist and caught her in a net the size of a ping-pong paddle. He laid the net on his thigh and dabbed a dot of pink paint on her back. With another flick, he let her go.

    Visscher is famous in honeybee circles for his technique. Seeley calls it alien abduction for bees.

    As the day passed, more scouts returned to the porch. Some were marked with pink dots. Others were blue, painted by Thomas Schlegel of the University of Bristol at a second box nearby. Some of the returning scouts started to dance. They climbed up toward the top of the swarm and wheeled around, waggling their rears. The angle at which they waggled and the time they spent dancing told the fellow bees where to find the two boxes. Some of the scouts that witnessed the dance flew away to investigate for themselves.

    Then a blue bee did something strange. It began to make a tiny beeping sound, over and over again, and started head-butting pink bees. Seeley had first heard such beeps in the summer of 2009. He didn’t know why it was happening, or which bee was beeping. “All I knew was that it existed,” he said. Seeley and his colleagues have since discovered that the beeps come from the head-butting scouts. Now Seeley moved his microphone in close to them, calling out each time the bee beeped. It sounded like a mantra: “Blue. blue. blue. blue. blue.”

    When you consider a swarm one bee at a time this way, it starts to look like a heap of chaos. Each insect wanders around, using its tiny brain to perceive nothing more than its immediate surroundings. Yet, somehow, thousands of honeybees can pool their knowledge and make a collective decision about where they will make a new home, even if that home may be miles away.

    The decision-making power of honeybees is a prime example of what scientists call swarm intelligence. Clouds of locusts, schools of fish, flocks of birds and colonies of termites display it as well. And in the field of swarm intelligence, Seeley is a towering figure. For 40 years he has come up with experiments that have allowed him to decipher the rules honeybees use for their collective decision-making. “No one has reached the level of experimentation and ingenuity of Tom Seeley,” says Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University.

    Growing up in Ellis Hollow, in upstate New York, Seeley would bicycle around the farms near his house one day he discovered a pair of white boxes. They each contained a hive. Seeley was seduced. He came back day after day to stare at the hives. He would look into the boxes and see bees coming in with loads of pollen on their legs. Other bees fanned their wings to keep the hives cool. Other bees acted as guards, pacing back and forth at the opening.

    “If you lie in the grass in front of a hive, you see this immense traffic of bees zooming out of the hive and circling up and then shooting off in whatever direction they want to go,” said Seeley. “It’s like looking at a meteor shower.”

    For his PhD at Harvard, Seeley took up a longstanding entomological question: How do honeybees choose their homes? He climbed into trees and poured cyanide into hives to kill the honeybees inside. He sawed down the trees and measured the cavities. Seeley found that bee hive hollows were very much alike. They were at least ten gallons in volume, sat at least 15 feet off the ground and had a narrow opening.

    Seeley built 252 wooden boxes of different shapes and sizes and scattered them in forests and fields to test how particular bees were about these qualities. Swarms only moved into boxes that had the same features that Seeley had found in their tree cavities. “It’s really important to get them all right,” Seeley said.

    The architectural tastes of honeybees are not mere whims. If honeybees live in an undersized cavity, they won’t be able to store enough honey to survive the winter. If the opening is too wide, the bees won’t be able to fight off invaders.

    He took his research to Appledore Island because no native honeybees live here, and it has no big trees where the insects could make their homes. Seeley and his colleagues would bring their own honeybees and nest boxes. “This is our laboratory,” Seeley said. “This is where we gain control.”

    In one experiment, Seeley set up five boxes of different sizes. Four of the boxes were mediocre, by honeybee standards, while one was a dream home. In 80 percent of the trials, the swarms chose the dream home.

    Through years of study, Seeley and his colleagues have uncovered a few principles honeybees use to make these smart decisions. The first is enthusiasm. A scout coming back from an ideal cavity will dance with passion, making 200 circuits or more and waggling violently all the way. But if she inspects a mediocre cavity, she will dance fewer circuits.

    Enthusiasm translates into attention. An enthusiastic scout will inspire more bees to go check out her site. And when the second-wave scouts return, they persuade more scouts to investigate the better site.

    The second principle is flexibility. Once a scout finds a site, she travels back and forth from site to hive. Each time she returns, she dances to win over other scouts. But the number of dance repetitions declines, until she stops dancing altogether. Seeley and his colleagues found that honeybees that visit good sites keep dancing for more trips than honeybees from mediocre ones.

    This decaying dance allows a swarm to avoid getting stuck in a bad decision. Even when a mediocre site has attracted a lot of scouts, a single scout returning from a better one can cause the hive to change its collective mind.

    “It’s beautiful when you see how well it works,” Seeley said. “Things don’t bog down when individuals get too stubborn. In fact, they’re all pretty modest. They say, ‘Well, I found something, and I think it’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s the best, but I’ll report what I found and let the best site win.’”

    During the time I visited Seeley, he was in the midst of discovering a new principle. Scouts, he found, purposefully ram one another head-on while deciding on a new nest location. They head-butt scouts coming from other locations—pink scouts bumping into blue scouts and vice versa—causing the rammed bee to stop dancing. As more scouts dance for a popular site, they also, by head-butting, drive down the number of dancers for other sites.

    And once the scouts reach a quorum of 15 bees all dancing for the same location, they start to head-butt one another, silencing their own side so that the swarm can prepare to fly.

    One of the things Seeley has been thinking about during his vigils with his swarms is how much they’re like our own minds. “I think of a swarm as an exposed brain that hangs quietly from a tree branch,” Seeley said.

    A swarm and a brain both make decisions. Our brains have to make quick judgments about a flood of neural signals from our eyes, for example, figuring out what we’re seeing and deciding how to respond.

    Both swarms and brains make their decisions democratically. Despite her royal title, a honeybee queen does not make decisions for the hive. The hive makes decisions for her. In our brain, no single neuron takes in all the information from our senses and makes a decision. Millions make a collective choice.

    “Bees are to hives as neurons are to brains,” says Jeffrey Schall, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. Neurons use some of the same tricks honeybees use to come to decisions. A single visual neuron is like a single scout. It reports about a tiny patch of what we see, just as a scout dances for a single site. Different neurons may give us conflicting ideas about what we’re actually seeing, but we have to quickly choose between the alternatives. That red blob seen from the corner of your eye may be a stop sign, or it may be a car barreling down the street.

    To make the right choice, our neurons hold a competition, and different coalitions recruit more neurons to their interpretation of reality, much as scouts recruit more bees.

    Our brains need a way to avoid stalemates. Like the decaying dances of honeybees, a coalition starts to get weaker if it doesn’t get a continual supply of signals from the eyes. As a result, it doesn’t get locked early into the wrong choice. Just as honeybees use a quorum, our brain waits until one coalition hits a threshold and then makes a decision.

    Seeley thinks that this convergence between bees and brains can teach people a lot about how to make decisions in groups. “Living in groups, there’s a wisdom to finding a way for members to make better decisions collectively than as individuals,” he said.

    Recently Seeley was talking at the Naval War College. He explained the radical differences in how swarms and captain-dominated ships make decisions. “They realize that information is very distributed across the ship,” Seeley said. “Does it make sense to have power so concentrated? Sometimes you need a fast decision, but there’s a trade-off between fast versus accurate.”

    In his experience, Seeley says, New England town hall meetings are the closest human grouping to honeybee swarms. “There are some differences, but there are also some fundamental similarities,” he said. Like scouts, individual citizens are allowed to share different ideas with the entire meeting. Other citizens can judge for themselves the merit of their ideas, and they can speak up themselves. “When it’s working properly, good ideas rise up and bad ones sink down,” says Seeley.

    Groups work well, he argues, if the power of leaders is minimized. A group of people can propose many different ideas—the more the better, in fact. But those ideas will only lead to a good decision if listeners take the time to judge their merits for themselves, just as scouts go to check out potential homes for themselves.

    Groups also do well if they’re flexible, ensuring that good ideas don’t lose out simply because they come late in the discussion. And rather than try to debate an issue until everyone in a group agrees, Seeley advises using a honeybee-style quorum. Otherwise the debate will drag on.

    One of the strengths of honeybees is that they share the same goal: finding a new home. People who come together in a democracy, however, may have competing interests. Seeley advises that people should be made to feel that they are part of the decision-making group, so that their debates don’t become about destroying the enemy, but about finding a solution for everyone. “That sense of belonging can be nurtured,” Seeley said. The more we fashion our democracies after honeybees, Seeley argues, the better off we’ll be.

    Carl Zimmer’s latest book is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

    Watch the video: Άγριες μέλισσες - Δευτέρα 11102021 - TRAILER (May 2022).