Inside A Colony: The Birth Of A Bee

Whoa! Is it dark in here! With this sealed roof over my head, it’s no wonder I can’t see anything. If I could just scratch my way out . . .

I’ve been locked up in this cell for three weeks now and my legs are cramped and uncomfortable. At first, I was lying in the bottom of a waxen vault, wrapped in a tiny egg. Then gradually, my protective coating just dissolved and there I was, sitting in my breakfast. All around me was hustle and bustle, nurses tending me night and day, and all I did was eat!

For a while, breakfast looked like egg whites and tasted of protein.  But then, after about three days, it began to change and acquired a sweetness and scent that was irresistible. LOL, I ate and ate and ate! I overheard a nurse say I would increase my weight 1500 times in just five-and-a-half days. Way to grow!

But just when I thought I was going to burst, the food stopped coming and they locked me inside with a roof over my head. No food, no water, no decent air. It was scary. Worse, my body started to change. I felt all tingly, and my svelte worm-like figure began to disappear as I grew legs and antennae and eyes and even wings. But all those parts will do me no good in this cramped cell. I have to get out!

Adjusting to colony life

So now the roof seems to be breaking through. I can get my antennae out, yes, and my mandibles. If I bite away a little more . . . But holy cow, what’s that smell? And why is it still dark? And where’s everyone with the food? Don’t they know I haven’t eaten in twelve days? Will someone please bring me something to eat? I tugged, and pulled, and ripped, and bit. Finally, I was able to pull myself through the ceiling.  It appeared my exoskeleton had not yet hardened. I felt pale and fragile and I wanted to sleep.

Help finally arrived. “Oh dear! Oh, thank you! That was delicious,” I said, pulling my proboscis back and swallowing the proffered food. “But you smell like everyone else around here. What’s with that?”

The sister who shared her food turned to go but said. “That’s your queen, silly. Get used to it.”

And so I did. As my skeleton hardened over the next few days, I worked hard. I went back into my cell and cleaned up, polished the floor, and smoothed out the upper rim I had torn. When that was done, I collected debris and cleaned behind my messy brothers who tended not to do much in the way of, well, anything. With the cleaning out of the way, I went to help feed the young’uns.

Feeding the brood

I like feeding the young, but working with my sisters is irksome. I call them my sisters, but most are actually half-sisters. You see, we all have the same mother but, from what I can tell, we have ten or twelve different fathers. It’s hard to tell us apart, but some are more yellow, some more black, some a bit bigger, and there’s that one temperamental bunch, always trying to pick a fight. Morons. But we have to get along; in such cramped quarters, we simply have no choice.

Feeding the young isn’t such bad duty because we get to eat constantly. It works like this. All of us of a certain age gorge ourselves on bee bread. Bee bread is a delicious combination of partially fermented pollen held together with sweet nectar. It tastes like spring flowers and a wee bit yeasty. All of the eating we do allows us to secrete brood food, that milky, eggy substance I remember from my youth. We feed it to our young sisters night and day. We calculated that all together we feed each newly hatched larva 3000 times! No wonder they gain so much weight in such a short time.

When things go wrong

But there is more to life than just eating and feeding. Sometimes things go wrong. Just yesterday we spent hours removing larvae from their cells and dumping them on the ground. In spite of the heavy odor of Queen, we can recognize when things are not quite right under the capped cells. Some larvae are deformed and need to go. Some are highly infected with parasites or diseases and need to go. And some drones have too many chromosomes—two sets instead of one—and they have to go too. So a young bee has a lot of responsibility, not only for feeding the young but for culling the weak.

I’m not sure what is in store for me in the future, but once I learn, I will tell you all about it. In the meantime, thousands of hungry larvae await. Cheers for now.

Rusty Burlew
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