Fathers' Day at the Hive

Beatrice the bee's family tree

Beatrice the bee's family tree

So here we are in June. Fathers’ Day is upon us. Notice that I specify the holiday with the plural form of “father”. I believe that this is a day for all fathers, not just one. I’m a father. I have two kids. Their relationship to me is pretty clear. I’m their dad. My wife is their mom. Straightforward. This is not so much the case with honey bees.

If you read anything I write here, you will know I’m pretty obsessed with bees. I’ve written a couple of articles about how bees forage and how they see the world. The whole concept of a beehive and bee behavior also shows up big time in my second novel. Suffice to say – I like bees. What does that have to do with Fathers’ Day, you ask? Well, I’m glad you did. You see, some bees don’t even have fathers. No, I’m not talking about broken bee homes. I’m talking about bees that biologically have only one parent – a mother. But their mother has both a father and a mother. True. Weird, but true.

Each beehive has one fertile female – a queen. The queen secretes chemicals that suppress reproductive maturity in the other females in the hive. These repressed ladies are all worker bees. They, as the name implies, do pretty much everything needed to keep the hive alive. Everything, that is, except father the next generation. That task falls to the drones. Drones do pretty much nothing, in stark contrast to the “pretty much everything” covered by the workers. All drones are males. They hang out in the hive, taking up space and food, until a new queen appears on the scene. She arrives with an explosion of pheromones that wakes the drones from their state of general worthlessness and sends them into a frenzied attempt to mate with the queen.

It doesn’t end well for the drones that make the grade with the queen. She allows numerous suitors to mate with her, collecting their sperm for later use. The act of their donation inflicts a mortal condition upon the drones and they immediately fall to the ground and die. It’s an exit with a blaze of glory for these guys after a lifetime of sofa surfing.

After the queen is finished collecting the genetic material from the drones, she returns to the hive. She has enough sperm stored to last her entire lifetime as she works to repopulate the hive.

Here’s where it gets weird.

If the queen wants an egg to grow into a female worker (or possibly a replacement queen) she applies fertilization donated by one of her dates from that one wild night and plunks the egg into a cell in the hive. If she decides an egg should be one of the single-minded and faceless male drones, she simply lays the egg into a cell with no fertilization. That’s right. Male honey bees come from unfertilized eggs. They are essentially clones of their mother, but they are male.

So, female bees have mothers (queens) and fathers (drones.) Males bees have mothers and no fathers, but they do have grandfathers. (See the picture above if you need a visual aid. This is strange stuff.) As you can imagine, this could lead to some unusual conversations in the hive during June.

“What’re you getting your old man for Fathers’ Day, Bob?” asked Billy.

“Uh, what’s Fathers’ Day?”

“Beatrice told me about it the other day. I caught her coming in from a forage.”

“Billy, dude. Why are you always hanging around with her? You know she’s not a queen. There’s no future in that relationship.”

“It’s all about sex with you, isn’t it, Bob. You’re such a pig.”

“Shut up.”

“Anyway. Beatrice told me all about it,” Billy continued. “It’s a day when everyone gives stuff to their fathers and shows appreciation for them.”

“Well then,” Bob droned, “I’m off the hook. So are you.”

“What do you mean?” Billy asked.

“Man, you are dumb. That cute little worker has you flummoxed.”

“What do you mean?” quizzed Billy.

“We don’t have fathers. We only have Mom. You know, the queen?” Bob gave Billy a look that expressed both exasperation and amusement at his hive-mate’s naivete.

“But I was going to go Fathers’ Day gift shopping with Beatrice. Now what?” Billy’s bee shoulders slumped, and he emitted a faint and disheartened buzz.

Bob draped an antenna around his friend’s head. “Yeah, now what? And by the way, how does Beatrice even know who her father was? You know what the mating flight is like. Any drone in the hive could’ve been her dad. And, you’ve heard the stories. No one who gets lucky on that flight lives to tell about it. Ha-ha! I thought you were dumb, but it sounds like your little worker girlfriend is just as stupid as you are!”

“Shut up.”

Yeah, I know that kind of conversation never happens, but it’s fun to imagine. Also, let me leave you with one more mind-bending fact. If you look at the parentage of any given bee in the hive, the number of family members at any level of their family tree is a Fibonacci number. Yes, it is. If you didn’t read my article on the Fibonacci sequence, now would be a good time to do that. Here’s a link …

https://www.historicunioncounty.com/article/fibonacci-its-easy-1123

The Fibonacci pattern continues no matter how many generations to climb up the tree. It’s amazing.

This article was written by Tilmer Wright, Jr. Tilmer is an IT professional with over thirty years of experience wrestling with technology. He’s also a proud member of the Authors Guild of Tennessee. His second novel, The Bit Dance is a cautionary tale about what can happen when technology, combined with the logic behind a honey beehive, runs away from its creators. You can find links to Tilmer’s books at the following location: https://www.amazon.com/Tilmer-Wright/e/B00DVKGG4K%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_sc...

His author information website is here: http://www.tilmerwrightjr.com/

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