Surprise in bee reproduction

Look out, there’s the Queen Bee.

How can an individual beat the system? Humans are quite good at it, and I suspect some dolphins are adept, but in the set style of insect social systems, is there any sign of respite from the daily grind, outside of cartoons?

The humble bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, is seen here to be very flexible in its productive possibilities. With queen dominance highly developed in colonies, one hope for an alternative is recruitment of worker females. Pierre Blacher and his colleagues from Sorbonne Paris Cite´ and Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP) have discovered a drifting of fertile female workers near the end of a colony’s life. They move to neighbouring colonies (as well as being capable of producing some eggs in their own colony) and find this strategy successful.

Now this is not the way it’s supposed to work! The queen rules, as in chess, and although in other species, she is simply an egg-laying machine, the bumblebee queen is big and business-like in founding colonies, rearing workers and ruling her roost.

In experiments, the monitoring of workers’ inter-colony movement led to the idea of a dynamic set of behaviours by both infertile and fertile females. Competition between those capable of reproducing within a nest is probably much greater than was previously thought. The ordinary bee can be similar to the single mated queen in these experimental colonies.

While non-drifting workers had no oocyte (egg) development, ovary activation could follow either isolation or “drifting.” Just over half of all workers visited at least one foreign nest in these experiments, which is many more than has been found before. There was also no aggression between bees from different colonies. This definitely helps to explain the amount of drifting. Neither did the drifters die off more often than other bees.

Read the full story here.


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About jensera

Jennifer Harrington is a Toronto-based illustrator, writer and graphic designer. She illustrated the best-selling children’s book series 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' which includes the titles 'A Moose in a Maple Tree,' 'The Night Before a Canadian Christmas' and 'Canadian Jingle Bells.' She is also the owner of JSH Graphics, a boutique graphic design agency that specializes in print and web advertising. With her latest project, Eco Books 4 Kids, Jennifer has partnered with illustrator Michael Arnott to create a series of ecologically-themed ebooks for children. Her next book, 'Spirit Bear,' is due for release in the Summer of 2013. Jennifer offers two different school presentations for her 'Moose in a Maple Tree' collection, an illustration demonstration and a Christmas concert series, which can be booked at She will be taking bookings for school readings of 'Spirit Bear' beginning in October 2013.

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