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Friday, August 12, 2022

A lesson in democracy from the bees

Despite a queen bee to helm them, the apian world runs in perfect harmony

Written by Ranjit Lal |
Updated: August 3, 2022 5:39:14 pm
A bee in search of nectar. (Source: Ranjit Lal)

The moment the news got out that bees are ‘sentient’ Down in Jungleland (DiJ), at considerable personal risk and in a full beekeeper’s suit obtained an interview with the Queen of a well-established hive, whose location cannot be disclosed. Excerpts:

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DiJ: Congratulations Your Majesty! You have now been deemed to be a ‘sentient’ species along with the great apes, dolphins, elephants, parrots, and us. How does it feel?
Queen: So what’s new? We’ve always known who we are. Bees!

DiJ: So if you are a living creature that feels, and has emotions, how does it feel to be a queen? Also, don’t you think this ‘royalty’ business is a little outdated in these post-modern times, Your Majesty?
Queen: Sir, it was the workers that picked me – among others – to be their Queen. Believe me, it’s no easy job – as you may think. Try to lay up to 2,000 eggs every single day!

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Dij: As a sentient being, don’t you think that the caste system is outdated, too?
Queen: It’s merely a division of labour. Unlike your caste system, my worker princesses can and do change their status as they grow. When very young, they work in the hive, tending to me and the babies and larvae. They keep the hive clean, keep us fed and well-looked after…

DiJ: That sounds like child labour, Your Majesty! How can you approve?
Queen: Well, tell me again, why are seven-year-olds turning somersaults at your traffic lights? And, don’t you ask your children to clean up after themselves or do chores? Then, there’s child abuse and trafficking… Our princesses, on the other hand, are not condemned to do the same job throughout their lives.

DiJ: What do you mean?
Queen: These young things will soon be promoted to more responsible tasks: Like keeping the hide well-ventilated and at an optimal temperature; taking nectar and pollen from those workers who return from trips and feeding the young or storing it. They have to repair and rebuild; guard the hive. When they are mature enough, we let them out to forage for nectar and pollen.

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DiJ: Don’t they have boyfriend drones?
Queen: [Sotto voce] No. I make sure they can never feel that way about boys.

DiJ: (Looking around) What about these drone fellows that are hanging about doing nothing like playboys or lounge lizards…?
Queen (with a wry smile): Ah, my handsome princes! All of them so keen to find a princess that they can turn into a queen! Which, they will one day, poor fellows!

DiJ: So if they meet a princess and things go well, won’t they become King Bees? Or at least like the late Duke of Edinburgh?
Queen: (Sadly – because she is sentient): No my friend, as you know, when we sting, we die because our stings and parts of our bodies are torn out when we do so. Well, the princes are stingless but much the same thing happens to the most vital part of their anatomy during their wedding night… (Shakes her head) They do not survive!

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DiJ: OMG! As Queen, you must have absolute power! Is that fair in this day and age?
Queen: Oh, no we have a democracy! If ,for example, a scouting princess returns from an expedition very excited because she has discovered an even better site for a hive than this one, she will try and convince others to check it out. If another scout returns with news of another site, which she thinks is perfect she’ll do the same thing. Both sides will head-butt each other until one side gives way. But there has to be a minimum of 15 members approving the new site. Then, the hive may decide to relocate – I have no say in the matter: I have to abide by their decision and fly with them.

DiJ: You said earlier that your workers ‘picked’ you among others. What did you mean by that?
Queen: Well, they feed several of us potential queens with royal jelly so we are fit to be queens. I was the fittest and so I was picked. Now you can’t have two or more queens in one hive, so I had to exterminate all the others.

DiJ: So you killed your sisters-to-be?
Queen: As one day, one of my daughters-to-be will kill me. There’ll always be some larvae in the royal cells just waiting. When I can’t produce as many eggs as required, another potential queen will emerge and fight me to the death. Or, my daughters in the hive will.

DiJ: Is it true that in times of food shortage, the young princes are just thrown out of the colony to starve outside?
Queen: Well, they just hang around here, farting, so yes, they have to go. They can be easily replaced: they emerge from unfertilised eggs after all.

DiJ: Who is the biggest threat to you?
Queen (pityingly): Apart from you humans, I would say diseases and hornets. Over 15 million of us were massacred by you in Australia recently because of the varroa mite outbreak. Did you massacre people for getting COVID-19? One-to-one, we are no match for hornets, but if a hornet noses around, a whole bunch of us just pile on and roast it to death – they can’t tolerate temperatures above 40 Celsius.

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DiJ: We only culled you to protect future generations…
Queen: What’s good for the goose…! (Smiles) But we will triumph like our killer-bee sisters are doing in the US. Remember, we are sentient! That can be dangerous!

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First published on: 03-08-2022 at 05:35:41 pm

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