Ryan Brock started observing a colony of tree bumblebees as part of his Ph.D. program, but he didn’t expect it would be more dramatic than a soap opera.
Every time, he came back it was the same story line – an ongoing war between the queen and one of her stubborn workers.
This Worker Three was one of the 76 worker bees in the colony, and clearly he didn’t like who was in charge.
Actually, she started a coup. ” I observed Worker Three attacking the queen while she was laying eggs,” said Brock, “but, unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera handy.”
The other day, Brock saw something even more strange – Worker Three was laying her own eggs.
In the spring, the queen emerges from hibernation and builds her colony from scratch. She finds a place for her nest, lays eggs and searches for pollen to feed her baby bees.
In fact, her baby bees turn into workers, who take over the foraging duties, Brock noted, so the queen stays in her nest and has enough time for laying eggs – including the next generation of queen and mates.
Like every other monarchy, only the offspring of royals can inherit the throne. But, that doesn’t stop the worker bees to lay their own eggs, hoping their offspring would one day take control of the hive. Sometimes, bumblebees will even kill the queen to help their kids win the throne.
Without any help, Worker Three was immediately caught and punished by the queen. According to Brock, the queen saw her laying eggs and severely reprimanded her, attacking and wrestling her away from the eggs.
Then, in final act of control, the queen quickly ate the worker’s eggs.
Brock was completely shocked. ” It has long been suggested that aggressive interactions occur between the queen and her workers, but documenting it on camera was absolutely incredible,” said Brock. ” I felt very lucky to have witnessed something that few people are even aware of!”
He decided to share the video on Twitter, where people were amassed far beyond the insect researchers he hoped to reach. Twitter users dubbed the conflict “Royal Bumble,” after the queen’s wrestling-like moves.
After the riot, things have returned to normal in the hive, and peace rules once again.
“The queen and Worker Three are both still alive,” Brock said, “with the queen still chugging out plenty of eggs.”
“I haven’t seen Worker Three lay any eggs since being told off,” he added. “It seems she’s learned her lesson!”
However, with three more months of observation left, Brock hopes there will be no more drama.