Q. Do bees grieve?

A. A very interesting question. First, we must ask if bees have the capacity to grieve or even feel any emotions.

With only one million neurons, it is unlikely that they have the physical hardware required for the mental computational power to express emotions. Bees do have a certain level of awareness and maybe some sort of consciousness, but we must be careful to avoid anthropomorphising (humanising) them and comparing their world experience to ours.

To me though, the important element is that even if they could feel emotions, would they grieve? I don’t think that they would. Death is likely a very different experience to them. All living things have a ’purpose in life’ and that is to continue their genes. Because of the way that bees reproduce, workers can be more similar genetically to their sisters (75%) than their mothers (50%). That is why their seemingly altruistic behaviour in the hive actually ensures that more of their genes continue. So, if they are willing to lay down their life for the good of the colony, they are unlikely to mourn, with any real sense of loss, a sister that has done likewise.

Ken Brown is an Apiculture Land Based Training tutor, Vice President of the Auckland Beekeepers Club and a keen hobbyist beekeeper.

Flying bee. Photo: Jody Mitchell.