Bee Blog #1: What’s the BUZZ? Featuring Bella, the Queen Bee by Jessica Demarest

Note: this is the first in a series of blog posts from our student-run Champlain College Publishing Initiative. Look for these and others as we bee-come more aware of our flying friends.

What’s the BUZZ? Featuring Bella, the Queen Bee

by Jessica Demarest ’17

Graphic by Emma Reed ’18. Click here for full size version

Oh, hello there. You’re rather large aren’t you? What do you eat? Oh wait, I know. My colony probably pollinated it. Did you know that bees are the only animals in the world that make food that humans can eat? Without us you wouldn’t have broccoli, asparagus, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, blueberries, watermelons, almonds, apples, cranberries, or cherries. And that’s not even everything. You’re welcome.

And no wings? That must be a bore. I couldn’t imagine life without my wings, not that I have to use them much. I am the queen, after all. That’s right, I’m Bella, the queen bee in this hive.

Like I was saying, I don’t have to use my wings very much anymore. At least not after I won the Battle of the Hive. You see, there are usually about five virgin bees, all female, who have to fight it out to determine who’s tough enough to be queen. It’s a battle to the death, but of course, I won.

After that, I had to go out on a few mating flights before I could become a full-fledged queen. I collected the sperm from drones, boy bees, and stored it in my spermatheca. Now I can just use that stored up sperm to fertilize eggs and hatch more worker bees.

I’m not saying my job is easy. I lay between 1,000 and 1,500 eggs every day, and it’s all for the good of the colony. The only time I’m not laying eggs is when there’s less food and flowers available. Otherwise, I’m hard at work! Which is also why I get waited on so endlessly. All of my dutiful worker bees do their best to keep me fed and protected. In return, I let them lick my body. I’m sure it sounds strange to you humans, but that’s how I spread my pheromones throughout the colony.

The pheromones, like my egg-laying, are really for the well-being of the colony as a whole. They prevent the worker bees, who are all female, from developing ovaries — I already take care of laying all the eggs, so they need to focus on their jobs. They also stimulate foraging behavior and inhibit the construction of queen cells. Too many queens would just be a mess.

That’s not to say I’m the only one. Other virgin queens are born, and sometimes they’ll even take over the colony. If a queen does a poor job, the hive will eventually revolt and drive her out. Basically, we’re just as much slaves to the hive as any other bee.

But I would never end up with a mutiny on my hands. I’m just too good at my job. The only way I’m leaving the colony is by my own choice. In fact, I’m getting ready to let my successor take over right now. Our colony is just getting too big — there are too many of us! So I’m going to take half of the colony and go find a new home, and leave the next queen in charge of keeping the old hive running smoothly. It’ll be one of the virgins, but I have my money on Betsy. She’s tough as nails, and I have a feeling she’ll wipe out her competition without any problems at all.

I trust Betsy, for the most part. It’ll be hard following in my footsteps, but I’m sure she’ll make do. Anyway, I really need to be going now. I haven’t left the hive yet, and those eggs aren’t going to lay themselves!

Learn more about the Champlain College Apiary. Located behind Perry Hall, the apiary is open for organized tours at various times from May through September. If you would like to bring your class to the apiary, or involve the apiary in your course or program curriculum, contact Kristin Wolf.