Cool Things About Honeybees
An Animal Rights Article from


September 2010

"The assumption that insects are, by virtue of their size or their lack of an internal skeleton, necessarily simple has frequently beguiled researchers into overly reductionistic hypotheses" (Gould, 83).

The queen mates "once" (over a few days) in her life with 7-17 drones (males), who actually sort of explode and die. She stores the sperm for years (Winston, 209). She lays 1,000 to 1,500 eggs a day (Bonney, 29); unfertilized eggs become drones and fertilized ones become workers. (Who came up with this "the birds and the bees" stuff anyway?)


Almost all honeybees are female (the 40,000 workers and the queen). The only known purpose of the 100s of males is to mate with the queen. These drones are thrown out of the hive before winter so their useless selves don't eat any of the honey. (Yes, the folks at Star Trek are confused about the whole drone/worker thing. Personally, I think American capitalists would find a Borg ship full of highly organized workers far scarier than one full of drones, whom they, no doubt, would like to employ.)

Honeybees communicate with each other (it's all part of the "hive mind," you know. OK, OK, I'll stop.) They do this through pheromones (excreted odors), sound produced by vibration of the wings, and through the language of dance. Using sound and dance, foragers alert the rest of the hive to quality food sources. They convey the distance (number of waggles and sounds), direction, and quality (duration of the dance) of the food source. If the food is close, the dance pretty much just goes in circles and everyone gets the picture. Bees watching the dance can make a noise and the dancer stops to let the requesting bee taste the food. The bees can accurately perform the waggle dance regardless of cross winds or the original path taken to find the food. Indeed, when a scout bee finds food she makes a beeline back for the hive and somehow manages to calculate a straight shot. A bee stinger (Root, 598):

"One of the most amazing attributes of a honey bee colony is its ability to project its foraging operation over an immense area around the hive: at least 100 km2" (Seeley, 47). "If bees were the size of people, the Harvard University biologist Edward O. Wilson once remarked, a single colony could collect nectar and pollen from half the state of Texas" (Buchmann & Nabham, 22).

Bees have a division of labor that is roughly age based (although probably not age driven) (Seeley, 241). Young workers can be found cleaning cells, capping and removing caps on cells with larvae in them, tending to the brood, tending to the queen, receiving nectar, packing pollen, building comb, cleaning the hive, ventilating (through fanning of the wings), and guarding the entrance. Later tasks include foraging for nectar, pollen, water and propolis with bees specializing in one area (Winston, 96). Yes, that Bee Movie stuff about choosing one job for the rest of your life was a big fat lie. I'll leave it to you to decide if it's just a stupid plot device or capitalist propoganda trying to normalize the idea of corporate life sentences.

Honeybees are not domesticated (Gould, 17). This is not because humans haven't tried; the earliest recorded beekeepers were the ancient Egyptians (Gould, 5). Viva la resistance!

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