Life is unfair. We learn this at a young age because we see social inequality throughout the world and throughout history. We see it among humans and we see it in nature.
In our last meeting, we talked about negotiation and how you get what you negotiate. We humans are perhaps unique in that we can negotiate. We can change the rules. We can change the fabric of our society. Below is a speech I presented that celebrates this fact:
A Natural Order
Is there a natural order? We humans often look to the rest of the animal kingdom for clues. For instance, we study vole pairings to find a genetic basis for monogamy and polygamy. We also study how social animals like chimpanzees establish a hierarchy and create community. Today I would like to share what I learned from a local beekeeper about the curious society of bees.
Bees have a strict division of roles among the 3 castes: thousands of female worker bees, hundreds of male drones, and one queen.
The worker bees are the bees that we see buzzing around flowers. Worker bees are all female and they do all the work: they make wax to build the honeycomb; they forage for food; they feed the larvae; and they defend the hive with their stingers. From the day they are born until the day they die, they work. They work so hard that they have the shortest lifespan of the three roles – just over a month.
A worker bee works a 12-hour shift, making 10 one-hour long trips to gather food. In one day she visits 100 flowers. She sucks up nectar into her abdomen and collects pollen in sacs on her back legs. She can carry her own weight in nectar and pollen!
(Image by katja from Pixabay Image) [https://pixabay.com/photos/bee-insect-flower-honey-bee-animal-170551/]
When she returns to the hive, she moves the nectar from her abdomen up into her mouth and passes it to another worker bee to store in the honeycomb. The enzymes from the bee’s belly thicken the nectar into honey. If you think about it, honey is just bee vomit!
It takes the nectar of 5 million flowers for worker bees to make one pint of honey! Think about that the next time you enjoy the sweets of their labor. Honey and pollen are intended to be food for the bees. Worker bees feed it to the rest of the colony, including the male bees.
The male bees are called drones. Drones don’t do any work. They don’t make wax, they don’t make honey, they don’t feed the young. They don’t even have a stinger to help defend the hive!
The drone’s only job is to mate with a queen, and it dies soon after the act. Just like how worker bees will die if their stinger is ripped from their abdomen, drones have a barbed member that rips from their abdomen during mating.
Drones will go hang out and wait for a queen bee from another hive to pass them by. When they catch the scent of a queen, oo la la, the drones will swarm after her. The successful drones will die a glorious death! Meanwhile, unsuccessful drones just go back to the hive and get fed by the worker bees.
This goes on until the winter, when food becomes scarce. Finally, the worker bees kick out those bums — I mean — drones. Now you can see why the word “drone” means “one that lives off the labors of others.”
The queen bee is, of course, a female. She is the only female designated to lay eggs. The queen is no different from the other females, except that she is raised on a rich diet of royal jelly. She also emanates a scent that prevents other females from laying eggs.
At a young age the queen leaves the hive to mate. She makes multiple trips until she has enough sperm stored in her body to make eggs for the rest of her life, which is about 2 to 4 years. From then on she stays in the hive and does nothing but lay eggs.
The queen lays about 2,000 eggs per day. She is able able to control the sex of the egg. Females are fertilized diploid eggs, and males are unfertilized haploid eggs. Only a hundred of tens of thousands of eggs are male.
Males are given special treatment from the day they are born. Worker bees help them out of their cells, and feed them immediately. Meanwhile, newly born worker females don’t get any help and their first task is to clean the cells from which they are born.
The queen herself is a slave to the colony. Once she is unable to produce enough eggs, the workers will raise another queen and either neglect or kill the old queen.
The division of labor among bees seems overwhelmingly unfair, but bees are just bees. I don’t think bees experience existential crises. They don’t question or protest their duty, they just do.
Human societies often have similar inequalities as bee societies. However, we can question our social order, we do protest it, and then we change it! For humans it is often difficult to just be like a bee. But maybe for us this is natural.
P.S. If you want to see some amazing footage of bees, I would highly recommend this NOVA documentary “Tales from the Hive,” available on YouTube.
Written by Sarah Tang, Secretary, Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters