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Debbie Hadley

Does the Queen Bee Really Rule the Hive?

By January 9, 2008

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Honey bee swarm

Honey bees may be the most studied insects on Earth, but there is still much to learn. Solving the mystery of how honey bees make collective decisions for the good of the colony may be the Holy Grail of entomological research.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina claim to have found a piece to the puzzle. Undergraduate student Andrew Pierce and Professor Stanley Schneider discovered that older worker bees, not the queen, decide when it is time for the colony to swarm. During their research, Pierce and Schneider observed the worker bees signaling to the queen, telling her it is time to fly.

Honey bees swarm when conditions in the hive threaten the survival of the colony. An overpopulated colony doesn't have enough room for food storage or egg laying by the queen, so half or more of the existing colony will leave to form a new one. The swarm is actually a temporary group of bees that settle together until a new home is found.

Photo: Flickr user aperte

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