Yesterday, I vented about honey bees and honeybees – the former being correct, the latter wrong. Today’s a new day, so here’s a new vocab issue. In today’s interesting world of blended boundaries, I thought I’d write a few words about gender and caste among honey bees. I’m not going to dig deeply into the science, just skimming the surface here.
You will frequently read or hear that bees have three castes. They don’t. I’m sure that I’ve made the same error – describing worker, queen, and drone as the three honey bee castes. Entomologists smarter than I have also made that mistake in their books and articles. So, here’s the scoop.
Honey bees are not gender-fluid. A drone is stuck in his manliness because he is born with just half the number of chromosomes (16) compared to what’s awarded to female honey bees. If the queen lays an unfertilized egg, it has only her own chromosomes, just a half set, resulting in a haploid creature which we call a drone. A drone bee has no father. Just a Mum. If the queen fertilizes her egg while depositing it, then the fertile egg has a full chromosome set and it becomes a female. Honey bees can’t cross the gender boundary. Drones are clearly different from the other bees, but they are not a caste. They’re a gender.
On the other hand, (female) honey bees are caste-fluid, at least while they are still formless little sacks of larval pulp. If it’s fed a royal diet instead of the worker-caste gruel of a commoner, the worm becomes a queen instead of a worker. They’re both still females. But they are different castes of female with differently developed bodies. They have different futures, different jobs.
So, honey bees have two castes – worker and queen, and they have two genders – male and female. If you catch me messing this up, send me a note or sign into the comments sections on my blogs and set me straight. Together, we can end the three-caste system and build a better world for honey bees everywhere. (My thanks to Erik for inspiring this little blog-post. He wrote about this subject in detail over at his blog, Bees with eeb, a couple of days ago.)
Don’t be a Dummy about this!