Laying Workers

Members of the Colony

Laying Workers in a Queen-Right Colony

 Most queen-right colonies are composed of one mated queen, tens of thousands of workers and a few hundred drones. Generally, we assume that the workers are sterile (with a reproductive system so underdeveloped it is incapable of producing eggs) and concerned instead of producing progeny of their own, with caring for their hive mates by nursing, foraging, building, guarding etc. However, up to a third of workers (again in queen-right as opposed to hopelessly queenless colonies), show partial ovary development and produce about seven percent of male eggs. These eggs have dramatically reduced viability (most of them failing even to transition from egg to larva) and are regularly removed and consumed, in a hygienic action known as worker-policing. 


Rebel Workers

There appears to be a sub-cast of semi-queen/semi-workers who come into existence when, after the first three days of life, they are fed royal jelly (because perhaps the reigning queen has been lost). These workers then develop somewhat more mature reproductive systems (more ovarioles in their ovaries) and act in a definitively un-worker-like fashion (competing as opposed to cooperating). These bees have been termed ‘rebels’ by the researchers (Kuszewska and Woyciechowske, 2015) who identified them.


Laying Workers in a Hopelessly Queenless Colony

 A hopelessly queenless colony is one wherein the queen has been lost and there are no eggs (three + days) to make into queens. In this dire situation workers do all they can to keep the colony going: some workers begin to lay. Of course, having never mated they can only lay drone eggs and because their abdomens are too short and they don’t know how it should be done, they often lay eggs (two or three per cell, that don’t reach the floor). Interestingly, colonies with laying workers exhibit the same protective behaviors as queen-right colonies and often resist the introduction of a mated queen vehemently.