The caste system of Bees

The caste system of Bees. Most people have the common lineup of Queen, Worker, and Drone – but misunderstand the full roster of needed roles.

“I always smile inside when I see a dumb ass five-fingered monkey trying to play
with a superior life form and THEN attempting to pretend they understand “ Greg

This comment was addressed to the Utube picture of some workers ‘balling’ a queen to death – basically killing the idea that a hive is ruled by a Monarchy.

QUEEN BEE – See my other post.  It is wrongly assumed that the queen bee manages the hive like a monarch. While she has influences the worker bees she is utterly dependent upon them for food, grooming and carrying away her waste. Neither is it a socialist society; IMO in many respects, the hive is closer to a collective with elements of a democratic system. (Popular vote mind you!)

The queen does not call the shots in the colony – at best she is a queen as long as she performs to the will of the collective of worker bees. Worker bees are the puppet master. It is they who have the ability to raise a new queen – or kill an existing one – whenever they wish. It is they who determine the length of her reign. Loose her pheromones, or become an egg laying slackard, they raise a replacement and give her the walking papers. There is no appeal to this process. As decadent and dependent she has become, the workers will stop feeding her, starving and even poking her into exercise activity to lighten her up for her forthcoming flight

NURSE BEES (who care for the brood) Not sure if there is a superdelegate type of
nurse bee who decides who gets the royal jelly and how much.
THE ROYAL CAREGIVERS as she must be fed, and they even take out her poop.
HOUSEKEEPERS (keep the place clean )
COOKS (the bees that take the nectar and pollen from the field force and
processes and stores them in the wax cells) The cooks also have kitchen helpers
(young apprentices) who mix the nectar with water and enzymes and then they are stuck fanning the mixture to evaporate the water until it turns into honey

ENGINEERS AND LABORERS (the ever needed repair crew who repair old wax cells and builds new.)
CLIMATE CONTROL ENGINEERS (heating and air conditioning gals.)
UNDERTAKERS (removing the dead adults and trash)

GUARDS and EXECUTIONERS (protectors against marauders and robber-bees. Will evict the Drones every Fall.) You might even call them ICE or the immigration police. NO foreigners are tolerated unless the hive is queenless and one places a queened hive on top with a copy of the Washington Post between to chew on.

Then there is the FIELD FORCE- the braceros bringing in the pollen water, and pollen.

SCOUTS: must be some elevated ranking of the ‘worker bee’ as they determine which place to swarm to and or which hives to rob. The primary role of a scout entails discovering access to food. They also are the unit that is tasked with finding a comfortable and spacious hollow tree to call home. To do this they will travel over a mile to find either. Meanwhile, the hive awaits the results.

Essentially it boils down to a ‘waggle’ dance. Each of the scout bees returns to the group and pitches their location found. If two nests are equally appealing, then the bees risk a deadly tiebreaker. The swarm has only one queen bee, so they must choose. The site’s location is indicated on the vigor of the dance and a shortlist of its findings. Honeybees (up to 50,000 of them) in essence select a new hive location via a quorum vote and have worked through differences of opinions to do what is best for the colony.

“The bees’ rules for decision-making—seek a diversity of options, encourage a free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices and some of these researchers now use their method in their own university departments. Rarely are humans as disciplined or egoless as honey bees.

Finally, we have DRONES:I suspect more is to be said about drones than I have suggested, they are more than mere hive warmers, Casanova’s and or simply Chippendale dancers who flirt with the gals for food.

I suspect that they are like Spanish Dons, full of their own importance but too
dull to see the chance or consequence of them getting lucky. Or as in many folk
tales, willing to make that blood sacrifice for the good of the kingdom. Either
way, they do not work, but are fed as they demand it. Are groomed when they
demand it – basically, they think themselves as lords of the hive.

One difference is that they really are neutered as warriors in that they have
no stinger and cannot even defend themselves against their smaller minions.
Again, no comparison to be found. Even the Eunuchs of the Chinese emperors had
their intrigues, poison daggers and ways to kill other rivals. Drones are a very
delusional creatures – perhaps explained because they only have half the DNA of
the females.

Parthenogenesis seems to have its drawbacks. Talk about ‘complexes’ the drone
only has a mother, but no father yet is no bastard. He also has a grandfather
that got killed in mating his mother. My oh my, no wonder the kid is so messed

I encourage everyone to read up on these marvelous creatures. You might add some great reading by someone I learned from. Harry and Ormand Aebi of Santa Cruz. “The art and adventure of beekeeping”.

It is a damn hard society to figure out. It certainly is not a very tolerant one for slackers.

Used to be a time that many Evangelicals posted the honey bee society to be one to emulate and that it mirrored the teachings of the Gospel. The proper placement for everyone.

I much prefer the Bahai faith or the more inclusive belief expressed as such: We can learn a lot from the honey bee, who happily gathers its nourishment from a large variety of flowers and doesn’t destroy, harm, or ridicule any flowers. It shows no prejudice toward one flower over another. In other words, the honey bee accepts the essence of each flower regardless of color, shape, type, or name.

Wish that were true of a humankind that concentrates on trivial racial, social rankings, sexual differences, much less religious differences rather than their commonality. We all live on the same planet and share the same resources and hopefully, someday we will do so less greedily.

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The caste system of Bees — 6 Comments

  1. Very interesting, Herb.
    I would have been surprised if the Queen ruled the roost.
    I mean how many teen or adult daughters do what momma says?

    • Thanks Steve.

      More and more, I find interesting tidbits and new questions to uncover. The Scout behavior, reporting and subsequent voting is quite accurate and QUICK!!!! Compare that to human decision making abilities. On any level from local issues to our incompetent and corrupt government. Lobbyists, they do not have.

      I still wonder about the decision to make war (raiding) other hives – if this too is voted upon. Certainly, once so engaged it is an all out thing and there are few deferments except for the housekeeping crew.
      Again, it is the Scouts that find the weak hive and report on its loot-ability.

      A good beekeeper can always nix this even to the point of moving the raiding hive to where the weak one is. In essence, making them raid themselves which puts an end to it. The weak hive is moved elsewhere and the entrance is restricted to make defense more effective. Italian bees are the worst and once one hive begins they seem to make it a habit unless stopped.

      An issue in Santa Cruz, but so far not up here. Carniolian bees seem to rob less.

    • Steve also asked: “If the bee keeper discovers the attack in time and manages to swap the hives around do the attacking bees attack their own or does the pheromones escaping from the hive prevent them from attacking?

      Answer: IF the robbing hive is one of your own and identifiable … I remove the hive being robbed to another property and put the robbing hive in its place. If that hive continues to be a problem for the others (most likely) I would requeen it with a Carniolan queen.

      Putting entrance restricting cleats will be necessary and you should consider reducing the hive entrances on all the others as well. With normal honey flow diminishing the allure of raiding increases during the summer.
      But be careful. If the temperature has turned hot, narrowing the entrance impairs ventilation and the wet bed sheet might be another answer.
      STOP Using Boardman entrance feeders and put in an interior feeder if needed.

      All in all, If there is only one colony doing the robbing and one being robbed (and the robbed hive is still strong) it is sorted out by swapping places. This confuses them and generally works. I will replace the robbing hives queen if this continues – weakening it for weeks as well. End of problem.

      If the robbed colony has been beaten up too badly, I close it up and move it at least 3 miles away.
      A robber screen installed in the early morning is the easiest answer and it should also be reminded that robbing (esp. from outside hives) can also introduce disease and mites so by putting out extracted frames, wax caps and other sugar sources is an invite to this dangerous behavior.

  2. BTW – my other weak, hopefully, requeening hive got some good news from the homeowner. 🙁
    ” Lot of activity at the hive. Bees coming in and out. Some of them are much larger than the worker bees.”
    Responded using some stuff from the Internet:

    Drones are more active in the early afternoon, they ‘head out to the local drone congregation area, have a floating crap game going down in the far corner of the field. They buzz around, talk trash and smoke their cigarettes while waiting to ravage an untouched queen. Bunch of delinquents if you ask me. That’s why they
    never amount to anything.’

    You better hope you’re a Czechnian drone, they die and get 76 virgins. American drones, on the other hand, get one virgin if they’re lucky, then they die after having their genitals ripped out of their body. They also have to share that pleasure with over a dozen others.

  3. Bees deserve some poetry so here is one a dear friend taught me.


    The sex of bees
    is hard to see

    But he can tell
    and so can she

    The Queens a very busy soul,
    She has no time for Birth Control.

    And this explains in times like these,
    Why there are so many sons of bees.

    This was exchanged by Myrtle Hutt, a local Sequim pioneering woman.

    Neat make out picture on my blog:

    BTW a good and practical use of beeswax to season cast iron is here:

    ure O

  4. Less well known is that the queen bee does not have a barbed stinger. Unlike workers, she can sting multiple times and survive. This evolution is because her stinger must originally be used to fight (kill other sister queens) and later during the process of laying eggs, positioning eggs and to fight other queens trying to take over the hive. Strangely, though often handled by beekeepers they rarely sting them.

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