The Honey Bee colony is a complex and efficient community. Although, most interested parties are now more often looking at the colony as a single organism that has many integral interconnected and dependent parts. To understand how this Super-Organism, the colony, works one must understand how things are accomplished and by whom. There are three Castes, these groups do everything from producing young, building the nest, raising the brood, young, cleaning, to mating with the queen. Each plays a vital role in the success of the colony and the survival of the species. This is the first in a series of articles on the different castes and how the castes function as a group, individual, and the roles each caste plays in the structure and survival of the colony.
The Queen is the matriarch of the colony. However, she does not “rule” the colony in human terms! Her importance and role in the colony is paramount to any other colony individual because she is the only female in the colony that is able to produce fertile eggs. She is, as an individual, the most important member of the colony. However, she is not irreplaceable! Often she is replaced by her caretakers because she is unable to produce enough female offspring to maintain the colony or because the pheromones, chemical signals, she produces are no longer strong enough or in high enough concentration to inhibit certain behaviors and solicit others. The loss of a queen due to her death from disease or some other event will not necessarily mean the demise of the colony and on the occasions that the colony must replace the Queen for the colony to survive there are opportunities available to the colony to produce at least one new Queen. More often, the colony produces a new Queen for producing another daughter colony, a Swarm. Swarms are the means through which the colonies produce offspring that perpetuate and distribute the species.
The Workers are also females, they are non-reproductive females that are responsible for maintenance, food gathering (foraging), food production (making Honey), care of the Queen and rearing of the young (Brood). The job function of the workers is further broken down by the age of the individual. Different aged bees have different tasks in the colony and different physiological abilities. Although, the physiology of the worker can change when the need arises, sometimes the changes can dramatic. In addition to the “housekeeping and brood rearing chores”, the Workers are also responsible for the defense of the colony.
The last caste is the only male caste in the species, the drones. They have one purpose and one job, mating with the queen. Otherwise, this caste is nearly useless from a narrow perspective. The wider more learned perspective makes the Drone Caste just as important as the other castes however!
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