Honeybees are resilient creatures. Eternal optimists, they wait patiently at the hive entrance, eager to make efficient use of even a short burst of sun on a rainy day. If bees are feeling stifled, they initiate the process of swarming. When space is tight, they instinctively know that a hive with too many members and too few resources requires adaptation. Rather than succumb to overcrowding and starvation, the bees decide to raise a new queen and split in two; bringing resources and wisdom with them.
In addition to their integral role in maintaining life on our planet, since ancient times, bees have been seen as gateways to the soul and messengers of the divine. Bees offer us a glimpse into the world from their perspective. As a mirror or reflection of our own society, bees are made up of individuals that work together to achieve a common goal. Each bee has a specific role to play, without which the colony cannot survive.
Young, adolescent female bees tend to the larva, feeding them nectar and regulating the hive’s temperature. As the next generation of bees are born to replace them in this role, adult females become workers, in charge of gathering pollen and nectar. When the workers age and can no longer fly long distances, they retire back to the hive, taking on the role of guarding it from intruders and outside threats.
Male bees or drones make up only about 10% of the hive’s population. Drones are hatched from unfertilized eggs. They don’t do any productive work in the colony they occupy, but it is nonetheless important to maintain their small numbers because their genetics will help to create diversity among bee populations of the region. Their role is to mate with virgin queens from other colonies, passing on genetic wisdom and positive traits which will help future bee colonies survive in their changing environment. When their sacred role is fulfilled, male bees perish.
The colony’s queen, or leadership, is integral to it’s survival. Her pheromones help to regulate the activities of the others, and her genetics determine the temperament and productivity of the hive. Sometimes you can get really ornery, aggressive colonies and other times gentle, docile ones. Some hives produce hundreds of pounds of honey in one season, while others barely produce enough to last them the winter. This is all dependent on the queen bee the workers have chosen to follow.
If the queen is killed, becomes sick, or is not productive in her egg laying, a strong, balanced colony will produce a new one. The adolescent bees in charge of the nursery will select a larva, of a very specific age, and begin feeding it exclusively royal jelly (regular worker bee larva are fed mostly pollen and honey). This diet triggers epigenetic changes in the larva and she changes into the much larger, fertile queen bee. When she is fully developed, the virgin queen will leave the hive on a mating flight. She will mate with a strong male bee from another colony, giving her the ability to produce both fertilized and unfertilized eggs for the rest of her lifetime.
If the colony is unsuccessful in raising a new queen, the hive will not survive. Lacking leadership, and no viable eggs to create a new queen, rogue worker bees will begin laying eggs in a desperate attempt to keep the hive population strong. However, because workers weren’t fed royal jelly as larva, and because they have never mated, these eggs will always be unfertilized, resulting in an increase in drone population. As we learned, drones do not contribute to the hive they inhabit, they only consume resources. So, in an unfortunate irony, the rogue pseudo-queens’ solution only compounds the problem. As the current generation of worker bees retires and can no longer collect pollen or nectar, the hive quickly collapses as resources are extinguished.
There’s no “saving” such a hive either. I once tried to introduce a new, healthy queen to a disastrously declining hive, and they blindly rejected her. I watched in horror as the queen made audible pleas for acceptance, pleas for reason, pleas for salvation… and the rogue workers repeatedly stung her to death. That colony was content to self-destruct, refusing to see that the solution was right there in front of them. I felt helpless; I often wonder if this how our creator feels while watching us struggle.
Like a failing colony, making ineffective, self-destructive decisions, is human society on the verge of collapse? We’ve failed to notice our ineffective leadership. We’ve allowed them to stoke division and continually propose harmful solutions which only make our precarious situation worse. Why? Our workforce has been too easily distracted with bringing in scarce resources and doing busy, but meaningless work. Those who speak out or offer alternative perspectives are often stung by the masses. Perhaps we still have time. I can be hopeful. The bees show us the way. They also show us the consequences of complacency. They are our mirror. We only need look at the reflection.