Q. Who is in charge inside the hive? The queen or the workers (foragers)?

Good question. While it is commonly thought that she is called the queen because she is in charge, the hive can be likened to New Zealand and its form of government which is a constitutional monarchy.

The queen is the titular head of the hive. She is obviously essential to the hive as she is (usually) the only egg layer. Without her the hive would need to replace her or perish. However, she doesn’t even choose which egg to lay. She can only lay worker eggs into worker cells and drones into drone cells, as created by the worker bees. She lays almost constantly. If it’s decided to rear less brood, then the eggs are consumed by workers.

However, her pheromones are at least as important as her egg-laying ability as they are needed to hold the hive together socially. Releaser pheromones affect behaviour and primer pheromones can affect physiology. The queen mandibular pheromone (QMP) acts as both a primer and releaser. It reduces swarming behaviour and inhibits the development of ovaries in workers. These are all unconscious actions from the queen and when she doesn’t perform by laying fertilised eggs or secreting enough QMP, she is killed and replaced via supersedure. In this respect the hive could also be described as a proletariat dictatorship.

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

Bees building wax. Photo: Maja Dumat, Flickr