The plot thickens… a few days ago we posted in the blog post Drone Be Gone that drones are pushed out of the hive by worker bees to die at the end of every summer. It seems like a cycle that is rooted in bee DNA since forever. But imagine for a minute that this eviction is the revenge of the Queen Bee... my overactive imagination sees a plot unfolding in this blog post.
As the saying goes, love is blind. But love is not a factor in the virgin queen’s mating dance. It is about sheer sex for the sake of reproduction. Then the drones that impregnate her drop dead, their innards ripped out as they fall to earth on a ripple of agony and ecstasy.
Bee sperm makes a Queen Bee blind for a while, but the same toxic substance ironically helps Mr. Bee maintain his sperm. Until the toxin wears off several hours later, it is hard for her to fly away to mate with other drones. Since she is a honeybee, her mating flight may last for days while she mates with as many willing drones as she can find. This is her one grand flight, providing her with enough genetically diverse sperm to last her entire lifetime.
She also mates with so many drones to increase the odds that her beehive will be protected from parasites. However, the more males she mates with, the fewer bee babies will come forth from each drone daddy. Mr. Bee wants to have as many babies with the Queen as he can, so he’s not too happy about her promiscuity cutting his odds.
To counteract her plans to flit about with as many drones as she can, the drone’s seminal fluid blinds and poisons the Queen. According to scientists, it can trigger changes in the activity of vision-related genes in the Queen honeybee’s brain. This leads to a significant reduction in visual perception and locks the two genders in a sexual chess game to see which one is going to checkmate the other. He hopes she will just go home to the hive and birth his multiplicity of baby bees instead of winging off to find other drones. The Queen tries to remedy being blinded by darting away right after sex, but drone daddy often prevails anyway, and succeeds in reducing the Queen’s promiscuity during her time out.
Researchers at University of California, Riverdale, tested the hypothesis on two groups by electronically tracking these queens’ responsiveness to light after one group was exposed to semen and the other to saline. Queens exposed to semen were more likely to get lost and not return to their beehives after recent sexual insemination than those exposed to saline.
Bee sex seems somewhat Machiavellian... control and domination schemes not unlike Games of the Honeycomb Throne.
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