I haven’t mentioned it much (because I don’t like to dwell on my failures) but, last year, we got a couple of bee hives and set out to save the planet and give our veggie garden a boost. We hit a few snags along the way but thought we were doing pretty well until we treated the bees for varroa mites without adequately understanding the power of the medication. So, all of our bees either keeled over dead or flew away to safer climes.
This year, we attended the Beekeeping 102 class given by our local bee club and tried to learn a bit more before we invested another few hundred dollars in the little “buzz babies” (like fur babies, but riskier).
One thing that struck me during the class is that all fertilized eggs laid are female and each one will become either a Queen Bee or a Worker Bee. What they ultimately become depends completely on how they are nurtured and fed during the larval portion of their lives (like childhood, but quieter). For the first few days after hatching all of them are fed Royal Jelly and are, for a very brief time, princesses-in-waiting to be Queen. After three days most are fed Bee Bread and become workers who support the hive for the duration of their lives.
My first thought was how sweet it was that they are all born with the capacity to be Queen if they just get the right “food.” I kind of went off on a Disneyesque fantasy likening how we nourish and support our children to the amazing royalty they can become if we just do everything perfectly!
Then it occurred to me that, while being Queen might be nice, there is nothing wrong with being a Worker. The Queen is vital for the survival of the hive, but so are all the workers and the myriad jobs that they perform throughout their lives. At the beginning they work as nurses; feeding and caring for larva; attendants, grooming and feeding the Queen; hive cleaners; bee cleaners; undertakers; builders; cappers; packers; honey tenders; maintenance workers; and, finally, foragers. Each duty is taken on as their bodies develop to accommodate the tasks. By the time they fly out into the wild to collect pollen, propolis, and nectar to feed and repair their hive (and are subsequently taken care of and cleaned by the younger bees) they are fully prepared and developed for the job. All of this happens in the three weeks after birth.
The Queen, on the other hand, only leaves the hive once in her life and that is to fly around mating with a bunch of frat-boy drones, bred for that purpose alone. Once she returns she is cared for and fed and spends her days laying eggs (up to a couple of thousand per day). When she gets old and tired the hive decides to bring in young, new Queen. The old Queen either flies off with a bunch of bees to find a new home (where they will probably make a new queen, anyway), hangs out until she drops dead from exhaustion, or gets kicked out of the hive to be carried away by ants.
In the past few years I have heard/read/griped a lot about how the younger generation seems to have a sense of “entitlement.” I don’t know if this is true, or not. If it is, I suspect it is because they have been bred to be Queens and not Workers. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they work hard. It is not even a criticism. It is just the observation that people grow up with expectations, training, capacities that are taught to them, and I suspect that, as a society, we have not provided them with clear roles and skills to do some of the things we expect of them.
SPEAKING OF QUEENS
When I was a child I often watched a TV program called “Queen for a Day.” The format was that several women (I think three or four) would come onstage, tell the audience what they wanted/needed, and support their worthiness by telling the sad tale of their lives. After they had all been heard the audience would applaud for each one and the one who got the most applause would win her prize, be crowned, draped in a royal robe, and given a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses; usually to the accompaniment of grateful tears and much hugging. Most of these women looked like they had been, as my mother would say “drug through a knothole, backwards.” It would not be appropriate to come on the show looking glamorous.
These women were not asking for college tuition for their children, new Cadillacs, or trips to The Bahamas. Their requests were things like washing machines for their eight children, a car so they could get a job since their husband had lost his legs in a mining accident, or food to keep their family from starving.
I believe the whole thing scarred me for life. What I learned from it was not that we should help one another, or that people had challenges in their lives, but that one little twist of fate could put you in a position for which there was no recourse but to bare your soul and beg on national television. I still cringe when I think of it.