A Tough Life

There are billions of them; one of the most recognizable creatures in existence. They work themselves to death. Not sometimes, not under special circumstances; every single one of them, if not stricken with disease or subject to random catastrophe, work themselves to death with no exception.

I know what you’re thinking — that this is going to be another article about people and how we have it tough. This is not about humans. After all, relative to every other being on Earth, we have it made. Free will, the cognitive power to solve complex problems in seconds, being able to feel compassion… if you need proof, observe of your surroundings right now and think about how unreal your life is compared to any other being. Surrounded by madness? Doesn’t matter. You are the only life on this planet who can perceive and conceptualize what is around you. That is amazing.

In any case, I’m going to add some context to the life of a common insect that creates a staple for human kind and has for tens of thousands of years.

That’s right. Bees.

Female Honey Bees, or the Worker Bees to be precise have a unassumingly difficult life.

My infatuation with the Bees began with a story my friend Stephen told me during a beach vacation a few summers ago. He manages an organic farm in Virginia and makes some of the best damn honey on the east coast. On Oak Shade Farm, Stephen tends to his hives and knows more about bees than most.

I knew beforehand that tending to bees can be grueling.

Hives are delicate and bees can be temperamental — they can swarm, be stricken with mites and disease, and flat out stop creating honey on a whim. What I didn’t know is the roles different bees have, the extreme they go to in order to maintain the hive, and how difficult their lives can be.

The Hive

Three different types of honey bees are in each and every hive — The Queen, the Drone, and the Worker. (There are larvae and pupae too, which are versions of the aforementioned in early life development).

There is little evidence that points toward why each hive only fosters one Queen at a time. What we do know is a hive is an Autocracy; all activities are for the Queen and the preservation of the hive. The Queen has absolute rule over some 50,000 other bees and all 50,000 bees spend their entire life preserving, impregnating and tending to their immanent ruler.

Only when the queen is dead/near death, or when the hive separates via swarming, do the Worker Bees (female bees) begin creating a new Queen. Any common Worker Bee larvae can become a Queen Bee.

Ever wonder or hear about Royal Jelly?

If you’ve been to a Whole Foods or natural food store and walked down the “supplements aisle” chances are you’ve seen a small, $30–$50 bottle containing Royal Jelly and labeled as a probiotic.

Although it sounds like a precious substance that is kept in a maximum security vault in the hive with 24/7 surveillance, Royal Jelly has a much more bleak description and origin. It’s a liquid hormone secreted by Worker Bees into all larvae combs to help the larvae sprout into the blackish-yellow insects.

All it takes is a larger incubator and an extra dose of Royal Jelly to trigger ovary development in a female larvae, which in turn grows into a newly minted Queen Bee. Once the Queen is matured, she lives nothing short of a glorious life. Every bee tends to he every need while she creates the life in the hive. The biggest downside of being the commander in chief to her colony is that she has to spend most of her life surrounded by Drones.

Ahh the Drones.

The proverbial lifestyle of the lazy man, the couch potato, the stereotypical unemployed, unmotivated dude who doesn’t seem to have much direction. The Drones are the only males in the hive, and there are roughly 1 for every 45–50 Worker Bees making up about 100 per colony. They only have one purpose: Impregnate The Queen while eating an abundance of honey.

Although the drone lifestyle is ironically interchangeable to a common human male stereotype, it behooves these bees to carry out this particular role in the hive. I always find joy telling the story of the Drone to my friends in person — especially my guy friends because without a hesitation, their retort almost always begins with the word, “Nice” as they indulge in the Drones iconic role in the hive.

The reaction lasts up until I tell them how the Drones die.

These male schlubs suffer a grim fate because of the nature of their propose to the hive. Unless you’re a bee keeper, you’ve dissected a hive, or you stepped on a dead Drone, you’ve probably never seen one before . The reclusive insects stay in the hive their entire lives, until they add no more value to the greater good. After weeks of impregnation and mooching off of hard earned honey, the Drones are “removed” from the hive — “removed” meaning the Workers relentlessly drag the Drones out of the hive and drop them from the front door. Because of the Drones sedentary existence, they grow large and never exercise their wings so their flight abilities are rendered useless. Most Drones starve to death a few meters below all of the food and nourishment they could ever ask for, with no means to re-enter the hive.

The ladies of the hive live a polar opposite life than that of their male counterparts. They are the life blood, the doers, the driving force of the hive, and without the Worker Bees, there would simply be a ruler of lethargic degenerates. The mere ratio of Workers to the other bees speaks volumes to their importance, and there’s a reason they are deemed the “Worker” — which inadequately describes the amount of turmoil these passionate flies face throughout their lively-hood.

If you’ve ever heard George Carlins famous rant about euphemisms, you’d start to question if the name “Worker Bee” justifies the reality they face. Worker bees work the majority of their life. Not like a “9–5 work week, come home and see the husband and kids” all of their life; at the point when they transform pupa to adult, female bees don’t stop working until they die.

Worker bees build the hive, protect the hive, collect nectar, make honey, tend to larvae and pupae, clean the hive (i.e. drag out useless drones as aforementioned), make sure the queen is happy, create beeswax to preserve the hive, etc.

You get the picture.

In summer months, or the “busy season” for the bee hive, Worker bees survive a generous 6 weeks. In the winter, if the cold doesn’t kill them, their lifespan can double, triple and sometimes quadruple. Why the significant decrease in summer months? The determined little employees of the hive are often in flight or moving their wings throughout their entirety. During the cold months, the opposite occurs. They fly less and become, well, lets say more nourished. Because they are packing a spare tire in the winter, they tend to be less active, therefore increasing their longevity.

If you’re reincarnated as a bee, hope that it’s during the cold months.

Because of the constant flight during the summer, Worker Bees will flap their wings to the point of engine failure. They exhaust their body’s ability to fly because they are flying for over 90% of their existence — the other ~10% is spent in the larva/pupa stage of development. Sometimes they plummet right out of the air. Often the females land somewhere and are not able to fly again. They fly until they cannot fly any longer, and then crawl to their starvation or until they meet their maker i.e. a hungry frog, squirrel or bird.

Imagine working so hard that you lose an extremity and then die. That’s the reality of the life that Worker Bees have to endure.

I’m obsessed with honey bees. Maybe because they serve a metaphorical purpose in our lives and teach us an inherent lesson about life; maybe because I can relate to all three types in some sense of their nature; maybe it’s my proclivity to honey among other natural sweeteners. All I know is once I move out of my 750 sq foot apartment, I’m going to start keeping bees. In conclusion I challenge you with this: dig deeper into your favorite animal and understand its life and how it relates to our lives.

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