Is she a queen or just a female bee?
All queen bees are females with the ability to lay fertilized eggs, but not all fertile, egg-laying females are queens. The term “queen” is often misused to describe female solitary bees that live and work by themselves. In fact, these are not queens but simply females. Well-known examples of queenless species are the mason bees, leafcutting bees, and carder bees, but there are many more.
When it comes to queen bees, a variety of definitions exist, but one thing remains constant: the queen is the principle egg layer in a social colony. In Bees of the World (2004) O’Toole and Raw state it this way: The queen is “the principle or only egg-laying female in a social colony, which does little or no foraging.” As you can see, a little tube-nesting solitary bee does not live in a social colony and does all her own foraging,” so no crown for her.
In the human world, the word “queen” implies a social structure where one individual reigns over another or is somehow in a position of leadership. This is equally true in the bee world. Only those species in which adult females live together and cooperate in some way have queens. In those societies, one bee is referred to as the queen and the others are referred to as workers. In some cases, there is not much distinction between the two types beyond a certain “bossiness” exhibited by one bee over the others.
The queen question becomes more complex when you look at the different types of bee sociality. Bees exhibit a broad spectrum of social behaviors from those who live in the same abode but have nothing to do with each other, to the very complex structure found in a honey bee hive.
How queens rule also differs. Eric Grissell offers a glimpse into bug dominance in his book Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens (2010). He explains that queen yellowjackets rule by aggressive behavior toward the workers, while honey bee queens rule with pheromones—rule by subterfuge, as he calls it.
In North America, a number of bee species have queens. Beside the honey bee, there are queens among the bumble bees, Augochlorella, and many species of Lasioglossum. According to Wilson and Carril in The Bees in Your Backyard (2015) the Lasioglossum bees are known as semi-social species where multiple females lay eggs and share responsibility for raising the young. In an interesting twist, the largest Lasioglossum becomes the queen, staying home and laying most of the eggs, while the smaller females become foragers. If something happens to the queen, one of the other females will take over the egg-laying duties and become the new queen.
In summary, non-social female bees are just “females” and males are just “males.” As far as I can tell, the word “drone” is reserved for male honey bees, and no drones exist in other bee species even if they have queens.
Honey Bee Suite
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