Do Bumblebees Ever Go To War Against Their Queen?
When it comes to a bumblebee colony, efficiency, obedience and self sacrifice in the service of the queen is a necessity for proper social functioning. These behaviors are similar to human principles such as duty, honor, and pride in one’s work. However, bumblebees have been adhering to strict colony rules and caste systems long before humans even existed. In fact, it could be said that serving the queen bee is wired into the genetics of each bee, and is unchangeable. However, researchers are now finding that bumblebee colonies can devolve into complete chaos, war, and murder. When this happens it is always about beeswax.
A bumblebee colony shows the greatest degree of efficiency during the social phase. During this phase the queen becomes fertilized by a male. The queen then lays numerous eggs, and after her offspring emerge they pamper and feed the queen. The worker bees, which are always female, provide the queen with plenty of sustenance and protection from outside attacks. The worker bees forage for food and tend to younger worker bees that are still developing. Male bees are rare, but that male may get a chance to fertilize a future queen. Due to this lack of sexual competition, bumblebee colonies are efficient during this period. But things do not remain peaceful for long.
At a later stage, the worker bees will go wild and attack one another. The worker females will destroy all of the queens’ eggs. This is the start of the competition phase. The queen quickly loses control over the colony and the females begin laying eggs that will soon become male bees. The queens are sometimes killed during the insurrection.
Researchers have never been sure as to what exactly caused this sudden aggression. It was believed that colonies simply became too large to control. However, researchers now believe that this widespread murderfest results from chemically altered beeswax. Beeswax is secreted by both the queen and her workers. The beeswax contains many lipids. Once the amount of lipids reaches a certain point, the worker bees begin to compete with the hopes of becoming the new virgin queen. Bees can easily sense the lipid content, and it is likely that the high lipid content signals the female bees that the colony is too large, and a new queen must be crowned.
Do you think all bumblebee colonies end this way? Do other types of eusocial insects ever attempt to overthrow their leader?