It won’t surprise you to learn I follow a lot of beekeepers on Instagram, and I’ve recently encountered some new beekeeping terminology I fully support.
It has to do with the three castes of bees, previously known as the queen, the workers, and the drones. But, no longer! Two of the beekeepers I follow (both women) have introduced new phrasing for these hive members.
Above is a picture that illustrates the three bee castes. (It also illustrates how poor my photo editing skills, but that’s beside the point.)
The photo above was taken of a poster we have hung in our downstairs bathroom. (There is no escape from bee education at our house.) And it was only after I took this picture that I realized that once again, the worker bees have gotten short shrift. They are at the bottom.
Not to be too opinated about it, but THIS IS COMPLETELY WRONG! They belong at the top.
Members of this caste of bees run the hive. Not only do they do all the foraging, make all the honey and propolis, clean the hive, care and feed the larvae (as well as the layabout drones), they also manufacture all the wax, guard the hive, and make all the cells.
Also, because they make the cells, these bees decide on the size of those cells, which is what tells the queen what type of egg to lay — fertilized for another female bee or unfertilized for a male.
Not only that, these girls are the ones who decide when and if the hive needs a new queen, and then they raise one.
Actually, they usually make several and let the new queens figure it out from there, but you get the gist.
Meanwhile, the drones wander around the hive begging food and fly to the drone congregation area to try to mate with a queen. Such a hard life.
While all this is going on around her, the queen is frantically laying eggs in the cells provided by her workers. Her entire life is summed up below. (Or you can read more here.)
1. Emerge from a queen cell.
2. Immediately locate all other queen cells and chew through the wax and kill the queen inside.
3. Rest and mature for a few days.
4. Fly to the drone congregation area to mate with multiple drones (who then die).
5. Repeat #4 a few times, sometimes many times. The more drones she mates with, the better the genetic diversity, which translates into a stronger hive. This is one time that promiscuity pays off, assuming she manages to return from all those flights.
6. Come back to the hive and spend her life laying eggs.
7. If she is very successful, the hive will get crowded. The workers will decide to swarm, and start making new queens in preparation.
8. Before those new queens hatch from the queen cells, the workers make the queen run to get her in shape to fly again. Or so I’ve heard.
9. The old queen then leaves the hive with half of the bees, and they find a new home.
There are other possibilities of how a queen’s life can end, but this is the happiest. Her life isn’t an easy one either.
All of this leads back to the topic of this post, the new names for the bee castes.
Ladies and gents, henceforth, I shall try to remember to refer to my bees as the sisters, the mother, and … wait for it, this is soooo accurate … the princes!
To be honest, I can go either way on worker vs sister bees because worker bee is 100% accurate, but mother and prince have to stay.
And that’s all I have to say on the matter.
Update on Mom: I come away sad every time I visit. She’s exhausted by therapy, but there’s no alternative. If she doesn’t do it, she’ll be bedridden for the rest of her life. If she does it, there’s a chance she may regain enough strength to have again some small control over her life. To even be able to go to the bathroom on her own again would be a huge win. But at this point, neither alternative is very attractive.
Also she’s still a little confused (although she’s not asked for my dad lately). She’s dependent on others for everything, when she’s always been independent, and is so grateful and happy to see me when I visit even though I boss her around. I know she feels she’s had a good life, a lot longer life than she expected, but she’s tired. It’s a lot to ask of a 92-year-old to learn to walk again, and I’m not sure she’ll have the physical strength and the emotional desire to succeed. Even though she has kept her good humor, I can see she’s tired of fighting and sometimes when she’s laying in bed, I can see her mind is very far away.
When she was in the hospital, I was telling the doctor how my grandmother died — doing as she pleased until one day she sat down in her chair and died — and how I was hoping that was how it would be for Mom.
He said, in the kindest way possible, “Most people don’t get what they want,” and something about it being very uncommon.
It makes me think that we need to get much better about death in our culture. There has to be a better way to ease my mother’s (and all of our) last days/months/years on this earth.
Sadly, I don’t know what that might be, or I would be seeking it out for her.
And now, I’ll end with something beautiful — two pictures of a Sweetgum tree leaf on rain-varnished blacktop that I took this morning. I know they are Sweetgum because I tried a new feature on my phone I didn’t know I had, which identified them.
Amazing! Honestly, sometimes technology makes me feel so old.
6 thoughts on “Mother, Sisters and Princes”
Oh, it’s hard to watch your loved one age. At this stage in my life, I wonder if living longer but not in good health is worse than living a shorter life but in good health. Some days I feel so old! But I’ll take what I’m given. Hang in there, Kym!
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It definitely is worse to live longer in poor health, I think. And the uncertainty of it all has me convinced I need to take all the opportunities that come my way while I can. I’m hanging in, Sue. You do the same. 🙂
Those new names! Perhaps we should call them Working Girls, Baby Mamas and Mama’s Boys…
I’ve always felt that we should always ask the very sick and old and tired *what they want* rather than doing what medical expertise deems they should have. I have an excellent book about dying (Being Mortal – Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande) that makes the point that at the very end of life we can often become disenfranchised and ignored despite being the ones going through the difficult process of leaving this life. Doctors are often keen to prolong life at all costs and attempt heroic measures against the best interests of their patients. I like this line from a poem by Arthur Hugh Clough: “thou shalt not kill, but need’st not strive officiously to keep alive”. I don’t think your mother is ready to let go yet, though! She sounds like a tough and determined lady, if a bit weary of all the business surrounding recovery.
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That’s one of the books I requested from the library. I decided I need help figuring what I can do to help and also to help me get my brain around things. She is a toughie, all right, and she’ll need all of that to get through this if she so decides.
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Also like your bee caste name suggestions!