The Brutality of Bees

Bees are not all gentle and sweet smelling of honey, though I do love that about some of my hives. As you heard from my last post, the hive mind can be testy and irritable and pesky towards intruders. But they also visit brutal things upon their own kind. Which in a weird way is comforting, right? We aren’t the only species.

Above is a lovely little queen that one hive recently offed. It came on the heels of a few days of intense buzzing and frenetic activity around the door. Clearly something was going on inside….when I found this little queen dead, outside the door a few days later, I realized that the hive had been living through a duel of sorts between the old queen and the younger queen. Evidently the old queen won. I can imagine the intensity and anxiety of the hive as all this was going on.

Bees like to make new queens for a variety of reasons. If they are crowded and need to split, they’ll make a new queen and take off with her in tow, for a new zipcode. If the  old queen becomes aged or failing and stops being a productive egg layer, they will begin to plot against her, building a new queen right under her nose that hatches out and comes back to fight for the throne.

Thankfully our human societies do better than this when people age, but we still do warehouse old people as they move past their productive, generative years.

At the same time, I also noticed the hive next door to the queen drama becoming quite active, throwing out drones all day long.  The picture you see below is of the killing fields of drones, the males. It was quite shocking one morning. Males are the genetic DNA of the hive and necessary when it comes to mating in the Spring. But if the hive is running out of room or has few resources to spare, the lounging drones become dead weight for the hive. They are useless when it comes to foraging and food production—or any other work that needs to be done in the hive, quite frankly. They eat through the honey and pollen stores. The girls will cruelly dig them out, chase them down, bite off their wings and attack them, throwing them out the front door.  It is shocking and sad.

But when I went in the next day to see what was the matter, I noticed they were getting ready to de-throne their queen too. The girls were tending queen cells that would come out in a few weeks to face down the old queen. I have to trust that the bees know what they are doing. There have been a ton of drone cells in that hive and usually queens will begin overlaying drone eggs when they have run out of fertilized eggs. Alas, for her.


So, clearly the hives have been in a state of flux and transition. It’s Spring after all. Everything is popping, growing, expanding, fruiting. I’m not surprised. Never a dull moment in the beeyard.

However, thinking like a bee, it did made me think about a few things. I realized how much humans are more like the hive mind than not. Often when violence intensifies or escalates in a community, it’s not hard to see the anxiety and fear that it visits on the whole. Feelings intensify. Everyone becomes unsettled. How quickly group think can kick in and things get out of control.

Another thing I realized, coming on the heels of a cabaret workshop recently offered by friends, Dying to Live”. I realized that all things are in a state of living and dying at any moment. None of us can escape this. Often we don’t fully understand the work we are called to do so we are fully prepared when it shows up on our doorstep—often a series of small deaths daily, with the big ones hitting us like a two by four. The best thing is to prepare and enjoy, seriously savor, every waking moment and imbibe as fully as possible. Cynthia and Stephen sang us the Cabaret Song with their ukelele’s in hand and we belted it out (little did I know this song and show was created during WWII, a time so rife with fear and angst)….

Start by admitting from cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
And I love a cabaret!





3 thoughts on “The Brutality of Bees

  1. Ah, Cabaret, one of my favorite musicals and songs. The setting is pre-WWII Berlin, and the first version of the story was written at that time, but the musical and the music weren’t written until the 1960’s. If you haven’t seen the movie, netflix it. It’s incredibly good and relevant. I went to Cynthia and Phil’s Dying to LIve workshop here in Oakland and loved it!


  2. I love this post especially after being there to see the drones and the drama on the pavement in person. Speaking of the beautiful drones, I want to note that that was Stephen, and not phil on ukulele. Lol. I am definitely keeping both of these wonderful men as my InterPlay mates and collaborators.


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