Backyard Apiary,  Bee Facts,  Reflections

Super Superorganisms

Honey bees are fascinating superorganisms. What does that mean exactly?!

In 1911, William Morton Wheeler, an American entomologist first described honey bees as “superoranisms” because the parts (worker bees, drones, and queen bees, etc.) work together and require each other for survival. This idea extends beyond the bees themselves and into the honeycomb and throughout the hive. The entire hive acts as an organism – needing each part to survive.

When eggs are laid – female worker bees and the queen bee are equal. It is what they are fed that determines if they are going to grow into a worker or a queen. This is decided based on what is needed.As worker bees grow up, they grow into different jobs – starting with caring for the young bees and cleaning the hive and then graduating to guarding the hive and foraging for food. Each of these changes comes with behavioral changes and physiological changes as well. (So fascinating – I could write a whole article about that.) What this means is that as these worker bees move through their roles, their body changes to make them more adept at fulfilling those roles.

The queen bee lays all the eggs for the colony. She can choose to lay a female or male egg but this is often decided for her by the cells that are provided to her – she is led around the hive and told where to lay by her worker bee caregivers. The larger cells are for drones, the smaller ones for worker bees. She does this job well – laying 1500-2000 eggs during the warmer months.

The drones are made perfectly for their job. They have large eyes to spot the queen in flight, large wings to catch up to her in the air. Their sole job is to mate with a queen from another hive to further the genetics of their hive. During the Spring and Summer, you can find drones in some abundance (up to 20% of the hive), however, come Winter – they’ll be kicked out to slim the colony down for survival. They do not perform an integral part in maintaining or working around the hive, so they have nothing to contribute outside of mating season. The queen will lay more drone eggs as the days get longer and the air gets warmer in the Spring.

The hive acts as the central system for the colony – it holds the food, it holds the brood, and it allows a safe place for the colony to return at night. The pollen stored in the cells provides protein, the nectar provides carbohydrates, and the brood area allows the queen to continue to lay the next generation of bees. The hive also hosts propolis collected from trees that acts as an antimicrobial, antibiotic for the hive.

Honey bees work together for survival. The hive survives because everybody does their part. This teamwork is an amazing thing.

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