The Birds and the Bees. Without the Birds.

Imagine that you are a walking down the sidewalk when, suddenly, you hear a buzzing from behind you.  You do not have much time to react before a black and yellow blur comes straight at you.  You scream at the bee that has just startled you and say that “he” must be in a bad mood.  What most people do not know is that bees are not attempting to scare, sting, or eat you.  They are only acting on a single-minded mission to protect and provide for their colony.

Honey bees actually have a complicated social structure called a caste system that gives them a specific role in their hive.  This system has drones (males), workers (sterile females), and a queen (reproductive female).  That bee that flew towards you on the sidewalk was probably not a “he” because the only members that go far away from the hive are the workers, who all happen to be females.

These workers grow from fertilized eggs laid by the queen and are chosen to be a part of this group while they are still larva.  They make up a majority of the hive’s population and get the joy of running the hive with none of the benefits.  When they are young they air condition the hive by beating their wings and as they grow up they leave the hive to forage for food and protect the area from danger.  Since they are the only group that is able to sting and are irrelevant to reproduction, they will then forage for nectar for about 45 days and die.

Drones, on the other hand, are kept around a little while longer so that they can mate with the queen.  Drones are determined by being laid by the queen as unfertilized eggs.  Have you ever heard a woman say “I wish we could lock men up and only use them when we want to have kids,”?  Well, bees actually do that!  Drones are the only male members of the colony and their sole purpose is to mate with the queen, and other than that all they do is consume nutrients.  In fact, in the winter when resources are low, the queen will actually kick the drones out into the cold to die! That’s cold.  Pun intended.

The queen is obviously the most important to the hive in terms of continuing the population.  Among the entire population of female larva born, a select few will be chosen to be fed a special nutrient called “royal jelly”.  This means that more than one queen at a time is grown, but only one will survive to reproduce.  The first of all of the possible queens to mature will search the hive for the other growing queens and kill them to become the only reproductive female.  At this point the queen will briefly leave the hive to mate, and after her first flight she will rarely leave again.  This is most likely the only time she will be away from the hive.

So imagine a world where there is one queen, barely any men that all live in the dungeons waiting for the queen to call, and huge amounts of women harvesting food and fighting armies who threaten their city.  If you can imagine all of that, you know how the caste system of the honey bee works.

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