The question of whether honey bees move eggs from cell to cell has been a hot topic on forums, blogs, and websites for about three weeks now. The assertion seems to be that honey bee workers will move eggs to where a larva is needed, such as into a queen cup. I don’t know where the discussion began, but I’m getting plenty of questions about it.
Personally, I have no clue whether honey bees strategically move eggs, but I have some thoughts. Unfortunately, that’s all I can offer for now.
Do bees carry?
One of the arguments in support of egg redistribution is that someone has seen bees “carrying eggs the way an ant carries pupae.” This is not at all surprising. Various textbooks and papers give us good clues to this behavior.
- It is known that honey bees will reduce the number of eggs in a nest if the queen has produced more than the workers can care for. Some books claim that the eggs are “re-absorbed.” I assume that means eaten. Even in a colony of vegetarians, re-absorption makes sense because conservation of nutrients and energy is extremely important for survival. Nutrients are not wasted, but simply reused. Re-absorption can also occur after a large loss of field bees, which can reduce the flow of nutrients into the hive.
- It is also known that even healthy queen-right colonies have a background level of laying workers. These workers deposit their eggs in cells whenever they can. But the eggs are soon discovered by other workers (by pheromones, I assume) and are either consumed or removed from the hive.
Given these behaviors, it does not surprise me that eggs appear where no queen has been, such as above an excluder, or that someone has seen bees with eggs in their mandibles.
If the eggs were discarded, how else would the bees move them? They don’t have rucksacks. And eating requires mandibles as well. So, yes, I believe these situations may cause a bee to carry an egg in its “teeth.”
But carrying does not imply strategic placement. Possession and intent-to-distribute are two different things, just ask your lawyer.
Is intent even possible?
Based on what I know about honey bees, I think strategic relocation of eggs is clearly within their capabilities. In other words, I can easily imagine them being programed to do it. Honey bees are survivors. I can almost hear them conspiring among themselves, “We need an egg in this queen cup. Let’s bring one in from over there. No one will know.”
But, at this point, no one has proven it to me. When someone proves it—possibly by raising workers from the relocated eggs—I’m ready to believe. But I won’t believe just because it’s a good idea.
Honey Bee Suite