Honey bees are among the most studied of all insect species. This makes sense considering the economic importance of honey bees. It is well known that honey bee colonies are ruled over by a queen bee who lays both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. The unfertilized eggs develop into male drones that are incapable of sexual reproduction, and the fertilized eggs develop into female workers that are responsible for maintaining the hive and nursing offspring. The female workers are also incapable of sexual reproduction, as all colony members develop from eggs that are laid by the queen. The queen emits pheromones that prevent female workers from developing reproductive abilities. However, sometimes queen bees die, temporarily relocate, or mysteriously disappear. When this occurs, female workers may compete to become the new queen of the colony, or in some cases, the females may take their new egg laying abilities elsewhere in order to start a new colony where they rule as queen. Of course, a worker bee female is not an optimal or ideal replacement for a queen, as the worker females indulge in riskier behaviors and can only produce males. To put it simply, worker bee females do not possess the nurturing maternal instincts that true queens possess.
When a queen bee dies or goes missing, the remaining worker females suddenly find themselves capable of laying eggs, which causes them to violently compete for the colony’s royal throne. Egg-laying female workers are more adventurous and, perhaps, more reckless than their sterile counterparts. For example, egg-laying workers travel to more foreign honey bee nests than normal workers. This is due to the female’s reproductive desire to infiltrate queenless colonies in order to become that colony’s new queen. Researchers believe that worker reproductive bees do this in order to outsource the burden of caring for their offspring to a new colony. This type of infiltration is considered a form of “reproductive parasitism.” According to Benjamin Oldroyd, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney, when the queen of a colony dies, it can be more advantageous for the colony’s female worker bees to infiltrate other colonies in order to avoid the perilous business of competing with other worker females for the new royal position within their own colonies.
Do you consider bees to be the most intelligent of all insects?