Are queen honey bees really the key to longer life? At least one researcher thinks so according to this article ‘An age-old question: will wax slow wane?‘, but I doubt it. Unless I’ve failed to learn anything about bees since I started keeping and studying them some 6 years ago, Mr. David Vaux of La Trobe Univeristy seems not to know much about bees and their normal behavior and life span, some of which would draw a big question on the theories presented in the article. (Ignoring the more blatantly wrong facts such as queens can lay up to 200 eggs a day when the accepted estimate is up to 2000 to 3000 egg per day.)
David Vaux notes that most cells of the queen bee don’t actively divide, which is true of worker bees as well. But queens can live up to 6 years where workers live only about 6 weeks. He give no consideration of why bees die. Bees die (workers and queens) when they succumb to disease, are found to be no longer useful to the hive, are injured or simply wearing out (since their cells don’t divide and repair themselves as human cells do). Workers literally work themselves to death when their muscles and wings physically wear out. So in summer they live for some 6 weeks, but when they cannot fly in winter they can live for 6 months or more (until they start flying again). Queens typically live until they no longer lay a consistent pattern of eggs. When this happens the workers will replace the queen or the hive will die out. Since she rarely flies (normally only for mating and swarming), she doesn’t wear out her wings or muscles (and apparently egg laying is a much less strenuous activity than foraging) Her life span is basically determined by how many eggs she can lay and how long it takes for her to lay those eggs. In cooler climes with longer winters when the queen doesn’t lay eggs, a typical life span may be 2-3 years. But in warm climates or migratory beekeeping operations that follow the blooming flowers a queen may only last a year.
We know diet, stress and the environment can have a significant effect on the health and life span of many animals including insects (and humans). But this research seems to discount the facts that queen bees are feed different food starting when she hatches from an egg, and as an adult she is constantly cleaned, fed and tended to by many workers, and isn’t normally exposed to the sun or weather. Even the temperature and humidity of the hive she lives in is controlled by the workers. Even when mating she won’t fly until it’s 68 degrees Fahrenheit, much warmer than temperatures workers will fly in. She simply is not subject to the same stresses that workers are exposed to. Instead La Trobe seems to think the magic is in the semen that comes from the most fragile inhabitant of the beehive, the drone.
Thus David Vaux proposes inseminating queens with semen and saline and comparing the two groups. I can already tell you the results of this trial. The queens inseminated with semen will life longer, much longer. This is because queens inseminated with semen will be able to head a productive hive and will be well taken care of by the workers. The saline inseminated queen will only lay eggs that will yeild drones and the workers will attempt to replace her as soon as possible before the hive collapses. Without constant infusions of new brood from another hive the hive lead by a drone laying queen will fail. Even when if the queens are banked (stored in hive but not allowed to lay) the workers will favor the semen inseminated queen.
But should the research actually show there is some magic in drone semen that’s great news for me and the few others out there that have the equipment and training to collect it. At $5 per microliter (somewhere around $2.3 million per pound), it’s much more valuable than royal jelly and the demand is sure to drive the price up 🙂