back to article Study of asexually reproducing honeybee ponders: But why the mass murder?

The secrets that explain how a swarm of female-only honeybees living in South Africa can carry out deadly invasions on other bee colonies have been unravelled by a team of researchers, according to research published in PLOS (Public Library of Science) Genetics yesterday. Honeybee colonies have rigid social structures, made up …

  1. Bloakey1

    Ehhhhh, an interesting and informed article?

    What website is this, surely not El Reg or Ele Reg as we say hereabouts?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge


      When I started reading it, it looked like the bees have successfully built the bright future communist society by overthrowing the lazy queen and dealing a deadly blow to its consorts and retinue.

      However, after reading it in more detail, it is clear that the cape bees communism experiment is no different from communism experiments in human societies that tried it:

      the "parasitic egg-laying Cape bee worker" bees masquerade as queens, producing queen pheromones that "allow them to assert reproductive dominance over other workers". That is the local communist party secretary bee all right.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Hang on there

    If these parasitic bees infest a hive and lay eggs to overtake from within like some slightly less gruesome face-hugger of renown, do the dirty worker bees still work, or do they just lounge around pretending to be queen bees and quaffing all the royal jelly ?

    Because if they don't actually work and cannot do anything more than produce more parasitic offspring, then they are the terminal race for bees since, once all behives have been infested, there will be no more bees to do the actual job and they will then die off.

    So they are the Umbrella Corp of bee-land.

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Hang on there

      That was my question as well. If the parasitic bees and their offspring are still doing "bee work" then, apart from the scientific curiosity and genetic diversity implications, is this a problem or not? And if so, why?

      If, on the other hand, they are NOT doing "bee work" then I understand the problem and withdraw my question.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hang on there

        I would hazard that these bees were once much like other communal bees. Then they (as workers) recovered the ability to switch the queen stink on and off, and the egg-laying ability with it. This might not be so great for the hive that has it, possibly reducing efficiency.

        But what if those mutants can also go in other hives with impunity? There they can get free resources for their eggs. If it ever occurred at all it would be a rapidly reinforced behavior due to evolution.

        In the long run it seems to be self defeating, since the organized-hive genes are being replaced by the non-organized-hive genes. I bet this sort of mutation is pretty 'easy,' since it's a latent ability in all communal bees already.

        Solitary bees do exist, and they all lay eggs. Sometimes they live in 'hives' where they all lay eggs separately but defend together against the outside threats.

        The communal bees can't be fooled by the solitary bees cause those guys don't do the whole 'queen thing,' but mutants from their own communal ranks are different. This gene reversion will crop up somewhere, a few million generations have it 'easy,' then the other communal bees develop effective detection methods. And the mutants are now the ones having the hard time...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hang on there

          Even if the hive returned to normal activity afterwards the asexual bees are far less desirable as they wont benefit from mixing chromosomes. The two main problems would be that over time mutations will continue to introduce faults that can't be fixed. The second problem being the entire hive is basically cloned which means any genetic weakness will affect the whole hive.

  3. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Insect Cuckoos?

    Who must conquer or perish?

    The forerunners of the Bee Worker's Social Democratic Paradise?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Insect Cuckoos?

      The forerunners of the Bee Worker's Social Democratic Paradise?

      With that sort of invasion technique I'd be more inclined to call them Alphabet bees.

      1. x 7

        Re: Insect Cuckoos?

        Cuckoo bees exist, and predate beehives, but on a smaller scale

  4. OliP

    Don't forget the Bee Count is on atm!

  5. x 7

    "The worker bee lays and fertilises its own egg"

    you sure about that? These bees are parthogenetic, not hermaphroditic. The eggs don't need fertilisation as they are already diploid, not haploid

    Its quite common among insects. Gall wasps, stick insects, aphids can all reproduce asexually

  6. EveryTime

    That is an interesting variation. But a primarily-invasive variant is going to be self-limiting, as they rely on strong host colonies to take over.

    I do take issue with calling the queen 'all powerful'. From one point of view, the queen bee has as little power as the Queen. The virgin queen is selected before the egg is laid. She is fed only royal jelly (other bees get a balanced diet), which makes her larger and sexually mature. If she isn't killed by the existing queen, or another virgin queen, she is allowed to make a single mating flight. After that flight, she will likely never leave the hive again. The royal staff will lead her from one honeycomb cell to the next, where she is expected to lay an egg about once every minute. If she drops off that pace, the staff will build a few much larger cells off the main comb, and lead her to deposit eggs there. They will then make certain that she never goes back there and kills the immature queens.

    The queen does issue the scent commands to the colony, but she isn't actually the one that creates the orders. When the colony runs short of protein, they limit the queen's access to 'bee bread', a fermented pollen and nectar mix that is the bee's primary growing food. The protein-needy queen then issues the scent to concentrate on gathering more pollen. If the continues, she'll eventually stop laying eggs. But it's not really the queen making the decision. It's all decided by the queen's "staff", and she is just the figurehead.

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      I am sure there is a lesson for human colonies in there somewhere.

      1. Paul 129

        "A. m. capensis workers increase in number within a host colony, while numbers of the A. m. scutellata workers that perform foraging duties (A. m. capensis workers are greatly under-represented in the foraging force of an infected colony) dwindle, owing to competition in egg laying between A. m. capensis workers and the queen, and to the eventual death of the queen. This causes the death of the colony upon which the capensis females depended, so they will then seek out a new host colony.[6]"

        Thank you Wikipedia. I guess something like an increase in, regulatory bureaucracies, results in the death of Freddy Mercury?

  7. DainB Bronze badge

    Do these bees also call their new home Joburg ?

  8. roger stillick

    Mason Bees do some of this, NOT Apis bees...

    The NW Oregon Coast has few flowers and fewer veg gardens... so no Apis honey bees...

    To get plant pollination, we have to buy tubes of Mason Bees, most do not survive the winter...

    The housing areas 5 miles inland have 5 types of Apis bees to work their gardens, with some working beehives...

    AFIK= most hive failure here due to AG insect control chemicals... RDS.

  9. Rich 11 Silver badge


    Another surprising find for the researchers was that the Cape honeybee is actually genetically very similar to other African bees, suggesting that the Cape honeybee subspecies formed recently or is interbreeding with other African bees.

    If they don't have any drones and don't always flick the biological switch that enables them to reproduce asexually, then they must be interbreeding with other bee subspecies. If they're so good at getting into other hives to lay eggs, then surely sneaking in for a quickie with a frustrated drone isn't beyond them.

  10. Outcast

    Damned Immigrunt bees.. Coming in here and ruining our jerbs !

  11. Wolfclaw

    Come the apocalypse, the bees, ants and cockroaches will rule the world and we will be the slaves. Well, it's started, the political roaches are already in power !

  12. Shaha Alam

    can anyone join their Marxist utopia or is it an exclusive club?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Monarchy's days are numbered. Mark my words. This is how it begins.

  14. FBee

    No Comment

    That is all

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