In late June, the results of the largest ever field study into the effects of neonics on bees were published in the premier peer-reviewed journal Science. Framed as a watershed moment by many, the paper is likely to pressure the European Commission towards a total ban on the widely used insecticides, with a partial moratorium already in place.
Royal jelly. A majestic, sumptuous name for what is very much akin to worker bee snot.
Secreted from glands in the heads of nurse bee proles, this milky-colored, protein-rich substance is created for the sup of the newly-hatched Apis mellifera. While it is just a limited-time garnish for the ‘beebread’ (fermented pollen) and honey diet of young worker bees, the queen feeds exclusively on this luxury foodstuff.
It’s early April, and dusk is settling in. At odd moments throughout the day, you’ve found yourself pausing to admire the spring flowers, winking open their petals to the warming day, splashing the fields and gardens with purple crocus, butter-yellow calendula and cherry-pink milkweed.
What better time to check on the bees.
They’ve been cooped up all winter, doing little else than surviving. Or so you hope – last year, you opened the hive to find heartbreak: dozens of little bodies littering the comb, the brood chambers run afoul with the varroa mite, dread king of honey bee pests.
It’s been a long day though, and you’re famished. As your stomach growls a need, your eyes catch the fruit bowl on the dining table. Striding over, your hand reaches, hovers, grabs…
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, native plants and grasses bedecked the American landscape in huge, rolling swathes. Pollinators of many a feather, stripe and fur would spend their days visiting each flower as it bloomed, partners in a whirling dance of ongoing life.
Humans however – especially colonial humans – have a way of interrupting that dance. The woodlands and fields don’t blush with color as they once did, and pollinator species are having a harder time than ever finding enough food to support them through the seasons.
Long live the queen. And queen bees do live long – somewhere between 3 to 5 years (although some estimates stretch it to 9). Compared to the worker bee, which reaches the end of her life cycle somewhere around the 42-day mark, she might as well live for a bee-time eon. But whether it’s by disease, old age, natural disaster, or beekeeper murder (which, under certain circumstances, is recommended), at some point or other, the queen must die.
What then? Do the worker bees riot? Does chaos erupt, and the hive plunge into anarchy? After all, the queen bee is the only bee in the hive fully capable of producing offspring (at the upwards rate of one egg per minute, no less). Though worker bees are physically capable of laying unfertilized eggs (which hatch into male drones by way of parthenogenesis), this rarely occurs. There are two main reasons. The first is to do with the queen’s particular perfume – the spread of which convinces the colony they are “queenright”. It is a powerful pheromone, with various physiological effects – one of which is to cause the eggs inside of all the other females to wither and die (an example of “programmed cell death”). It’s as though she’s putting all her lower-ranked sisters on the pill just by existing.