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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.
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.