Beekeeping for Feminists: Is Queen Bee Syndrome Wrong? How to Make a Queen


“Don’t be a drag just be a queen” sings Lady Gaga…easy to say when you haven’t just been drugged and artificially inseminated!

“Wow, she is such a queen bee!” says a jaded co-worker in another article talking about women in the work place. Time and time again, these articles resurface, drawing a connection between bossy women in the work place and queen bees. Usually the connotations are negative, that queen bees rule the office, bullying other women in an effort to “dominate the hive.” Its feminism backfired, they report. Women become so powerful that they oppress other women in an effort to keep their power, and in doing so replicate the struggles that they had to go through in order to get where they are. If you haven’t read this kind of article, here is a quick sample for you, courtesy of Google: On “Queen Bee Syndrome,” where women oppress each other in the work Place - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1265356.ece.

There are all sorts of social meanings attached to the queen bee: bossy, controlling, smart, center of attention, captivating, oppressive, cruel, narrow-minded, forceful, uncompromising… But how much do people really know about this illusive queen bee? Are queen bees an accurate choice for a comparison about oppressive women in office politics? And since when was a “Queen Bee” a kind of syndrome?!!

It sounds like social scientists and commentators need to spend a summer with bees.*

In addition to checking countless hives for queen bees, I recently had the opportunity to visit the TEMA/MACAHEL Aricilik team in Artvin as they walked me through queen rearing – the art of raising and selling queen bees. Below I provide you with some interesting lessons about the illustrious queen bee, followed by an in depth photo documentary about making a queen. Maybe the more you and I learn about the queen, the more that we will think twice before misappropriating her into our own office politics.

* Please know that I am neither a professional beekeeper nor a professional queen rearer, rather, a social entrepreneur interested in the stories and potential behind bees and beekeeping for social good. The information I provide here comes through my ever improving second language, Turkish, my first hand experiences living in beekeeping communities in Turkey‘s northeast, and research I can find on the web. I write all of my posts from my fancy assortment of office spaces – including buses, pick up trucks, villages, and curb sides (brought to the world wide web by my mobile modem “VINCENT the VINN”).

1. Do queen bees rule the hive?

Not really. They are the only bee in the hive that actually lays eggs (in rare cases there are exceptions), and because they hold the future of the hive in their thorax, they are loved, adored, and nurtured by the worker bees and the drones. Everything is centered around the queen. Bees work together to control the temperature of the hive for their queen, and without the other bees, the queen cannot feed herself or survive. She rarely leaves the hive, and spends her glory days laying her weight in eggs. She can live up to five years, and therefore in theory, she outlives most of her friends and family (for the most popular girl in town, sounds pretty lonely to me).

2. Does a queen bee become a queen by bossing others around?

Not really. When a queen bee decides that its time for a new queen (for example, she is getting old, she has a broken leg, she is not feeling well, or the hive is getting too crowded and its time to swarm) she lays a regular egg in a special shaped queen cell that will grow vertically rather than horizontally. The worker bees then nurture the cell, feeding it only ari sutu (royal jelly). It’s the worker bees that make the queen bee who she is, through nourishment and “the royal treatment.” When a new queen is born, the old queen will take a swarm and establish a new hive else where, or she will hang around in retirement.

3. Well, where does the reputation of a “ruthless queen” come from?

Life in the hives can be brutal. For example, if there is no queen, the worker bees will work together to raise a new queen as soon as possible, and to ensure the future of the hive, they lay many new virgin queens. Once the new queens hatch, the queens will fight to the death by stinging each other (unlike other bees, queens do not die after they sting).

4. OK. Does a queen bee from a hive have anything in common with the queen bee parallelism in office politics? Where did that come from?

It depends what angle you take. For example, queen bees only ever rival other queen bees (not other workers). Generally speaking, the queen bee is not a glorious role. Would you rather be visiting flowers or laying eggs all day? Worker bees love their queen and do not rival her, they also choose her, raise her, and can kill her or raise a new queen if they decide. So if it’s about new queens fighting, then the analogy might apply. But for the most part, the relationship between the queen and her office, ie. the hive, is a complex system of survival and mutual social support.

Below is more information and many many photos… you decide for yourself. What do you think it means to be a “queen bee” in the office, and is there another analogy that would be more appropriate?

Like any good art project, cooking recipe, or theorem – for queen rearing you need to start with your basic ingredients. In the case of queen rearing, especially rearing pure Kafkas queens, here are the starting materials: 1. beautiful untouched biosphere with pockets of preserved pure bees species? Check.
Cheerful skilled local professionals? Check.
Millions of little white Styrofoam boxes for raising queens? Check.
Lab full of equipment and women ready to do the dirty work? Check!
Looks like we have everything. With these ingredients, we begin with every beekeeper’s favorite pastime… finding the queen. Because queen rearing frames are smaller, she is an easy catch than usual…
Once we find the queen, we pluck her away from her loving workers…”don’t take our queen!”
Then we paint her so we can find her again…  as Beyonce would say, “if you like it than you should have put some paint on it”.
See… here she is! So pretty…
Next we go find drones – male bees that serve the sole purpose of impregnating queens. They are pretty much loafers and because they have only one purpose, they don’t stick around long. So in a place like Macahel we have to move to hives at higher altitudes and steal drones from different hives every week, (before they have been kicked out into the cold by the workers).
Next we stick the drones in a little prison. They yell “help me!” Without the warmth and food the hive, they won’t live very long.
Next we take the drones and the queens to the lab. We squish the drones’ thoraxes between our fingers to squeeze out sperm. As the men watch us, they laugh that this work is for feminists. When we crush the butts of each drone, we are told (jokingly) to let out all of our anger of men on these little guys. “This work is for the feminists,” the beekeepers laugh. In general, women work in the labs because, I am told they have smaller more skilled fingers for abstracting the sperm and better eyesight for operating on the queen.
This is what the drone sperm looks in silhouette form (such an artistic death).
We abstract the drone sperm…
and place it in a vile.
Next we take our queen bee and we knock her out with some light anesthesia (she says “OMG someone put something in my glass!” before she falls asleep).
Next we stick her in a little plastic tube that will safely protect her core while we operate…

Once in the tube, we open her abdomen to make way for the sperm.

Then we take the abstracted sperm and we fertilize the queen (this is the way that your parents explained "the birds and the bees" to you... right?)

Following this work, we close up the queen and let her recover. She is tired, and feels a little bloated (as she wakes up she says, “someone definitely put something in my glass… I knew it! Boy, what a hang-over”.

When the beekeepers put the fertilized queen back in the hive, they create an artificial laying environment where worker bees are compelled to raise new queens. They do this by feeding regular larvae cells solely royal jelly (or bee milk). The resulting queen cells become much larger than regular bee cells. The gestation period for the queen is around 12-17 days, so when it looks like the queen will hatch, queen cells are separated so the new virgin queens will not kill each other to the death.

An example of a queen rearing frame where the only eggs are those for queens.

This is what capped queen cells look like. Inside each one waits a new virgin queen.

The queen bees each hatch into a separate cell lest they battle each other to death! Even if one is born before all of the others, she will open the cells from the sides and proceed to kill all of the remaining queens! Ruthless ;).

When it looks like the queens will start hatching, in some cases the beekeepers stick them in a new hive to be loved and nourished by a mini-hive of worker bees and drones.

Look! This is what a little queen package, the final product. In this small box she is shipped off to all parts of Turkey. She will make a beekeeper very proud. From TEMA/Macahel Aricilik, she is sold for 40 TL a pop. But when you think of all the work that goes into her, she must be worth it ;)!

Posted on September 19, 2011, in Business, Culture, Environment, Pop Culture, The Bal and the Bees, Travel, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great photos. I think I prefer mating my queens the natural way, it seems a lot less work and at least the sacrificed drones hopefully get a brief moment of satisfaction!

    You say above that when the queen bee decides it’s time for a new queen she lays an egg in a queen cell. From the reading I’ve done in the past I got the impression that when supersedure/swarming occurs it is the workers who decide when a new queen is needed, in the case of supersedure as a result of an older or poorly mated queen’s declining lay rate and pheromone levels.They build the queen cell out round an ordinary worker egg or a young larvae if a suitable egg is unavailable. This makes it seem even more like the workers are in charge.

    • Emily – you are right! It can be the queen, but actually mostly the workers that make the decision…and just like you say, if the workers are in charge, why oh why do we talk about super powerful women in the work place as queen bees?!!

      Thank you for your visit and post :)! You got to keep me in check, most of the time I write my posts, like I said, from some crowded bus, noisy cafe, or friend’s kitchen, usually at an ungodly hour and without much sleep. So your input is highly appreciated!

      Go forth and inspire!

  2. Amazing! Thanks for the education…
    I think I’d like some bee milk for breakfast!

  3. I pay a visit every day some web sites and information sites to read posts,
    however this blog gives feature based articles.

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