Bee’s Genetics

Bee genetics

One of my favorite people is taking genetics in school now. That class can tell you some weird biology. One of my favorites is the fun facts of bee genetics and sex. Bees live in a social colony with only one queen laying eggs. The workers scatter throughout the hive taking care of it.  They fly out gathering nectar and pollen to provide for the members of the hive. Workers are aptly named because they do all the work and the queen does nothing except have babies (eggs). The queen has a full complement of chromosomes, 2X. One X comes from her mother and one X comes from her father. She has 2x and when she is ready to mate, as in all most animals, she makes eggs by meiosis which are 1X. She needs a mate to supply the other half of the chromosomes, (1X) . Where does her mate come from? Well, from the previous queen usually. When virgin queens fly out of the hive on mating flights, they are looking to mate with a boy bee called a drone. The queen only flies and mates once for her whole life. She then stores the sperm in her body and uses a little at a time as she cooks up eggs that need it. She only lives a year or two, but that is still some impressive longevity for an insect. As she uses up her stored sperm, workers are created. The egg has half the chromosomes and the sperm has the other half. The fertilized eggs grow up to become worker bees. They stay worker bees unless they are fed royal jelly as infants by the workers. So the queen and the workers are both genetically diploid organisms. Now for the males. The queen makes males when her supply of sperm gets depleted. Her eggs are 1X and if they are not fertilized by any sperm, she lays them anyway as 1X organisms. In insects, 1X, or haploid organisms occur sometimes. These are the drones or boy bees. The guys are only made of half the normal chromosone number, so when they make sperm, they do not do meiosis or reduction division, they just do gametogenesis by mitosis, or regular cell division. When the queen begins laying drones, the workers take a cue and start making a bunch of new queen cells because they know the end of the current queen is near. The new queen cells grow and hatch. New queens must fly and mate before they can lay eggs. One hive may produce numerous new queens who either fly away and make a new colony or fight with each other for dominance of the current colony. Summary: Queen=2x, make eggs by meiosis. Eggs=1x Drones=1X, make sperm by mitosis Sperm=1x Eggs 1X+sperm 1X =2X workers= BEES! Cool genetics, huh?



  1. Ryan said,

    January 10, 2010 at 11:21 PM

    There’s a great section in “The Selfish Gene” about the genetics of bees and how bee behavior “makes sense” in terms of workers trying to pass on their own genes by supporting the only member of the hive that can actually reproduce, the queen (and drones).

  2. Kevin said,

    January 13, 2010 at 6:19 AM

    The normal nomenclature is n and 2n if you didn’t know, not that it makes much difference content-wise.

    Can’t queens also choose to produce males at will such as if it seems the hive needs to move due to bad environmental conditions? Also do new queen bees have posses of workers that follow them to help establish new hives? (I feel like I should know this or have known this in the past.. but alas)

    • January 14, 2010 at 12:09 AM

      I did not know. I do not research this stuff. I have forgotten the n and 2n stuff. I think you get the point even if I got the letters wrong. I do not know if queens can make drones at will. Probably bad environment makes stress and that leads to drones. Many times diseased hives lose the queen and the workers lay drones. They are virgins, after all. They can only lay drones.

      The virgins queens take flight along with a bunch of workers to attend them. This is the swarm.

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