Honeybees at the COC

 

The Canadian Opera Company is delighted to be part of the ever-growing support of honeybees, Currently we host seven hives onthe roof of our opera house, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Follow the honeybees' progress on Parlando, with visits and posts from beekeeper Fred Davis!

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5/25/2010

Queens, Drones and Workers - oh my!

There are three types of honeybee: the queen, the worker, and the drone.

THE QUEEN BEE
There is only one queen per hive. She grows one and a half times larger than the other bees, lives 40 times longer than the workers (up to seven years), and can lay between 1,200 and 2,000 eggs a day, which may be her weight in eggs. Ouch!

Contrary to what might be expected, the queen is selected by the worker bees. Once the current queen dies or becomes less productive, the workers select a worker bee larva to be the new queen. All larvae are fed royal jelly to begin with. Later, their diet is changed to pollen and honey, with only the virgin queens being exclusively fed royal jelly.

When the virgin queen reaches maturity, she ventures out of her cell and seeks out other emerged, and even unemerged virgin queens to fight them to the death. She then ventures out of the hive to breed in a short series of intense sessions with drones (some from other hives to avoid inbreeding). Multiple matings occur in flight and she collects sperm which she stores internally for the rest of her life, using it to fertilize those eggs she chooses to. She then returns to the hive, and if she is accepted by the hive, she becomes their new queen (if the old one has died) or fights the old queen to the death. Sometimes the old queen has already died, driving the workers to quickly bring forth a new queen from her cell. Or the old queen might have been killed by the hive to make room for a new, more egg-productive queen.

During laying, fertilized eggs become female worker bees who cannot reproduce. Unfertilized eggs become male drone bees, who are used for breeding only. The queen decides which egg she will fertilize as she lays it. Each egg is laid by the queen in an individual cell in the wax honeycomb, which is produced by the worker bees.

WORKERS
The workers are the female bees. They live several months during the winter season. But if they are born in the summer, their life span is only up to six weeks long as they literally work themselves to death. Most of the bees in the hive are workers. Workers have a remarkable promotion cycle. As young workers they clean the hive and feed the larvae. When they can no longer produce royal jelly, they move to building the honeycomb. As they get older still they act as receivers, taking nectar and pollen from returning foragers. They also guard the hive. And later still, an older worker will graduate to leaving the hive and becoming a full time forager. All this in about six weeks. Workers indeed!

DRONES
The drones are the male bee and there are very few of them in the hive. They are fed by the workers and are kept on standby for mating duties with a virgin queen. As they are of no use in the winter, they are expelled from the hive in the fall. They also die after mating. Yikes!

Posted by Gianna Wichelow / in Did you Know? / comments (2) / permalink

fran freeman (5/27/2010 9:18:21 PM)
Delighted to see hives on the 4Seasons. Perhaps some day the COC will commission a new opera based on the dramatic goings-on of the hive. signed a Toronto beekeeper
Gianna Wichelow (7/14/2010 1:01:14 PM)
I can see that... or a ballet!