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November 21, 2018

When a queen bee is made

WONDERS OF NATURE: worker bee collecting pollen.
WONDERS OF NATURE: worker bee collecting pollen.

 In Kenya, bees are just insects. Although they collect honey, arguably the sweetest thing in the world, there is nothing to write home about.

This is probably because unlike quails and pigs, there hasn't been a fad associated with it. Wait until the day you hear that a 'discovery' has been made that bees can make Kenyans millionaires overnight, and they will stop being just insects.

When rumours started doing rounds that quail meat and its eggs have a 'medicinal value' their prices hit the roof, and almost every Kenyan was in a mad rush to cash in on the craze.

 Welcome to Kenya. Citizens tend to jump into ventures that appear lucrative only for them to fizzle out in a few months. Chicken-breeding was hyped sometime back, and now, it is nothing to die for. Then pig business hit the market with a bang. That too came and went.

When quail business became saturated, farmers tried to release the little birds to the wild with little success. There were rumours that some farmers, who doubled up as preachers, were looking for a verse in the bible that they could invoke to make quails return to their habitat.

 These business ventures fail because people engage in them blindly, and have no business acumen. Do we bother to look for information that explains how a chicken is reared for it to be on the dinner table barely two months after hatching?

Albeit, no. Well, I will have to google to get that information but I do have some insights about queen bees that I want to share with you.

A queen bee differs from a worker bee in size, shape, function, and a whole set of instincts. But strangely enough, it is hatched from the same egg as the worker bee.

The two, however, feed differently. Queens are made – literally. Nurse bees will take one of the recently hatched female larvae, and by simply feeding it on a different diet transforms it into a queen bee instead of the worker.

 The honeycomb is made up of cells of two sizes – the queen’s chamber is, of course, much larger. The larger cells are used for raising the males, while the smaller ones, which are the majority, are for raising the worker bees. These are essentially females, and it is from this group that a queen is chosen and raised.

 The size of each cell in the honeycomb is big enough to accommodate a bee until it reaches adult stage. A male, which is bigger than a female, cannot be raised in a cell meant for the smaller female. None of the two can be raised in a cell meant for the queen.

Because each cell must receive an egg according to its size, it remains a wonder how the queen bee makes no mistake when depositing a male egg in a male cell and does the same for the female egg.

 That an animal can produce one sex or the other as the need arises and the outside circumstances dictates, is hard to believe. When you investigate other facts about animals in the hope of explaining this phenomenon, you are confronted by surprises. But such is nature. Full of wonders.

 The queen differs profoundly from other female workers in several ways. Each of the worker's bee hind legs has a brush for gathering pollen from flowers, and a basket-like side pocket for carrying the pollen to the hive. On the legs of the queen, these 'tools' are not there.

On the abdomen of the worker bees are pockets, which extrude the plates for building wax to make the cells in the honeycomb. The queen bee does not have such because she does not need them. The worker bees have only small vestiges of their sex while the queen is sexually complete.

 But it is the mechanism of the sting that brings out the most contrast. The worker bee has a straight solid shaft for a sting. At the end of the stiletto-like shaft, there are barbed lances facing backwards. When the lances are pumped deep into the flesh of the victim of the sting, the shaft is hooked into the muscle fibres.

When the bee tries to retrieve the shaft, it breaks off with parts of the lower abdomen, and the bee dies. The sting of the queen bee is a slightly curved scimitar shape with no lances. So the queen can sting repeatedly without the sting getting hooked. She rarely uses the sting, though, because it is not her work to defend the hive. She is made to be a queen.

Poll of the day