The Quintessential Queen

Backyard bees

Backyard bees and bee removal

By Ivy Ciolli

What makes a queen bee, queen? Well, in my household that’s an easy answer. My daughter holds that title and her name happens to start with a B. My little queen bee also happens to fit the definition I found online: A queen bee is well taken care of. She’s fed, groomed, and cleaned by her sisters (me)! But in the world of bees, becoming a queen is quite different—or is it really?

Natural selection

My curiosity about natural selection to become queen bee was prompted while playing a game of outdoor hide-and-seek with our children. “Bee-ing” under quarantine in Arizona has its privileges, considering our climate this time of year. The
game began with my son deciding to hide in our fig tree. Upon doing so, he discovered a swarm of bees. There were literally thousands of bees piled on top of one another. At the time, we had no idea about swarms or their resting stage. And we would later learn that these worker bees surround the queen to protect her while others leave to scout out a permanent residence.

Considering it was evening time, I resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to find a solution until the next morning. Unbeknownst to me, my husband contacted a company to come remove the bees, unaware of the fact that their solution was to exterminate. This contradicts my philosophy of protecting nature.

I immediately sent them on their way and quickly grabbed my honey jar from the local farmers’ market. Fortunately, Arizona Beetanical Garden honey company answered my call and led me to the AZ Bee Removal and Keepers Facebook page. There, I found one of their members, Allen, a pioneer of bee farming.

Avoiding extermination

Allen Hutchison has been caring for bees since 1978. He immediately offered to drive from Wickenburg for a nominal fee to remove the swarm. His fee was 15% of the
cost of the exterminators. Imagine that! It was refreshing to see that humane help costs a fraction of the cost of toxic extermination. Needless to say, we tipped him well!

Unfortunately, my husband’s fear was fueled by the advice of the exterminating company. They had convinced him that all Arizona bees are Africanized and must be killed. But knowing that bees play a vital role in the Earth’s food chain through
pollination, and myself being The Queen of Green, I knew there had to be a better solution.

Now back to the buzz of my article… I was unaware that these swarms existed and that the queen travels with her entourage.

According to www.carolinahoneybees.com:

“There are only 2 occasions for Her Royal Majesty to leave the hive
• the virgin queen leaves the hive
to mate
• a queen leaves with a swarm.”

Honey bee reproduction cycle

Both activities relate to a honey bee reproduction cycle. The first involves mating and prepares the queen to lay fertilized eggs. Leaving with a swarm is honey bee reproduction on a colony level. Both of these situations result in more bees.”

Upon doing my bee-search, I came upon another interesting article, “Royal Jelly Isn’t What Makes a Queen Bee a Queen Bee.” I was stung by curiosity when I read on www.wired.com, “For decades, scientists thought an excess of something special, a substance called royal jelly, elevated a regular honey bee larva to a queen. New research suggests we had it backward: It’s what future queens aren’t fed that matters. It turns out, it’s the other way around. Not feeding an immature queen pollen and honey is what makes her royal, not her exclusive access to royal jelly.”

Queens and genes

A worker bee and a queen bee differ only in which genes are activated. Genes make proteins, which build the rest of our bodies. By manipulating the environment of their offspring, honey bees genetically alter their bodies via nutrition.

We’ve known for a while that bees’ diet is involved in building different kinds of bee bodies. Science is still figuring out just how that happens. Queen larvae are surrounded by royal jelly; they float on a sea of sugary bee gland snot in enlarged cells. Worker bees eat beebread (a type of fermented pollen) and honey. Nurse bees mash this into a “worker jelly” and add glandular secretions as a garnish. Workers don’t get the special stuff in queen jelly, and their ovaries shrivel.

Bee-tween the scientific research I compiled and Hutchison’s plethora of experience, my bee knowledge was beginning to stick together like a honeycomb. Although, I was mostly intrigued by Hutchison’s ability to create harmony in his hives. I had many questions for him.

“I do not get into the genetics of how queens are made,” he shared. “I only get involved with changing the behavior of the hive. Feral bees have some amount of Africanized genes, and to change that behavior, you have to kill the feral queen and
replace her with a European mated queen.”

Once a queen, always a queen

On the upside, he was able to alter the behavior of our backyard swarm. Ultimately, the queen is able to duel for her position as easily as she can be sacrificed by worker bees for a new queen in nature.

This is not an issue in our hive… our little queen bee will always remain queen!

Please be kind to bees and remove your swarms or hives or any unwanted creatures for that matter in a humane and ethical manner. Our home is just as much theirs as it is ours! For more information, visit the AZ Bee Removal and Keepers Facebook page, where Hutchison is one of the administrators. They can direct you to a bee remover in your area.

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Ivy Ciolli is a native of Arizona born with the innate desire to protect Mother Earth. She is a wife and proud mother of Cole and Brooklyn. Her days are filled with volunteering at her children’s school, and philanthropic work involving abused and neglected children and animals.

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