Promiscuous queen bees improve health of hives

queen bees, the reproductive females in a colony of bees, are considered promiscuous. But nature has made them so, because it helps boost disease resistance of the colony by increasing the genetic diversity of the offsprings the bees produce. Scientists have proved that by indulging in sexual relationships with multiple drones, the queen bees actually improve the health of the hive.

Since taking multiple mates involves more time and energy and also puts the queen bee more at risk of attack by predators, the promiscuous nature of the queen bees, has always perplexed scientists. However, a team of researchers of Cornell University has unravelled the mystery behind this in a paper, which will be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society on January 7, 2007.

"Even though just one male provides all the sperm that a queen needs for the rest of her life, queen honeybees go out on mating flights and obtain sperm from a dozen or more males,' says lead author Thomas Seeley, a biology professor at Cornell.

Honey bee colony comprises the queen which produce eggs; the drones or males, which mate with the queen and the workers which are non-reproducing females. The queen lays eggs singly in cells of the comb. The larvae hatch from eggs in three to four days and are fed by worker bees and develop through several stages in the cells. Cells are capped by worker bees when the larva develop into pupae. Queen and drones are larger than workers and require enlarged cells to develop.

Only one queen is usually present in a hive. After a virgin queen comes of age it takes one or several nuptial flights and when established, starts laying eggs in the hive. A fertile queen is able to lay fertilised or unfertilised eggs. The unfertilised eggs develop into drones and the fertilised eggs develop into either workers or virgin queens. A queen may live three to five years; drones usually die before winter; and workers may live for a few months.