In Hive or Castle, Duty Without Power

Natalie Angier in The New York Times:Ang_2

As I watched Queen Elizabeth II float serenely last week through her swooning colonial multitudes, here chatting with Goddard engineers on the wonders of the space age, there catching the president on blunders about the queen’s age, I couldn’t help but doff a small mental tiara to the great lady.

Such sober poise and unpompous stances! She’s majestic, all right, her regalness clearly born, made and thrust upon her every day of her life. In so many ways, Elizabeth reminded me of another monarch I admire: the honeybee queen, that stoical, beloved mother to the worker masses in a beehive. Sure, Her Highness may go in for pastel solids and Her Hymenoptera for fuzzy stripes, but both are tiny, attractive celebrities prone to being swarmed. “The queen bee, like the queen of England, is not the ruler, and she doesn’t tell anybody what to do,” said Gene E. Robinson, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But she makes things work, and she makes everything better by being around.”

Dr. Robinson and other researchers are trying to understand the deep nature of the honeybee: why it behaves as it does, how a young bee knows it’s time to grow up and get out of the house, how an older bee finds its way back to the house after a hard day’s work, and what distinguishes a queen bee from the tens of thousands of worker bees that surround her.

More here.