Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video


  • Honey bees have a harsh caste system. Of the tens of thousands of bees found in a

  • hive just about all of them are female workers and they do pretty much

  • everything from cleaning and building the hive, to collecting pollen and nectar.

  • Their lives are so intense that while a worker can live from four to nine months

  • during the winter, a worker bee born in the busy summer season will only last

  • about six weeks before dying of exhaustion. It's not a whole lot better

  • for the 300 to 3000 male drones who basically hang around waiting to mate

  • with the Queen during the summer after which they die or are kicked out of the

  • hive and when fall comes, and they are of no more use. Then there's that Queen.

  • There's one per hive and she can live to be up to five years old

  • laying up to 2,000 eggs in a day. And she owes her entire existence to a bitter

  • protein-rich secretion called royal jelly. Given their long life and unique

  • position, there's rarely a need for a new queen, but when one dies or leaves the

  • hive along with a swarm, the colony needs to find a replacement and fast. In both

  • situations, a larval bee is chosen to become the new queen.

  • The science of how and why this happens isn't entirely settled but one thing is

  • certain, royal jelly plays a large role.

  • Worker bees produce royal jelly from a gland in their heads called the

  • hypopharynx and feed it to newly hatched honeybee larva. The milky-yellowish

  • substance is made of digested pollen and either honey or nectar. Not only is a

  • high in protein but royal jelly also has a combination of vitamins especially

  • vitamin B plus lipids, sugars, hormones and, minerals including potassium,

  • magnesium, calcium, and iron. This bee "super-food" also contains acetylcholine a

  • neurotransmitter also found in humans. It's what nerves use to tell muscles to

  • start or stop movement and may also contribute to learning. All those nutrients

  • might explain why royal jelly is often marketed as an expensive, dietary

  • supplement cure-all even though studies haven't been able to prove that it does

  • anything too significant for humans.

  • We are after all, not bees. But for bees, it does a lot and around day three of the

  • royal jelly diet is where things get interesting.

  • Worker bees will choose a few of the larvae and continue to feed them royal

  • jelly while every other larva is switched to a less nutrient intensive diet of

  • honey pollen and water. As the future Queens gorge

  • the royal jelly triggers other phases of development that workers don't

  • experience like the formation of ovaries for laying eggs. If one Queen emerges

  • first she will search for and destroy any other Queens still developing in

  • their wax cells and if multiple Queens come out simultaneously they will fight

  • to the death until only one Queen remains.

  • We don't know exactly how the worker bees decide which larvae get the royal

  • treatment but for a long time we thought it was random. That would make sense

  • because basically worker bees and queen bees are genetically identical. But there's

  • some evidence that the selection of a queen might not actually be so random.

  • A 2011 study found that the larvae of future Queens have higher

  • levels of proteins that increase some metabolic activities,

  • so there may indeed be a tiny genetic difference in the two that plays a huge

  • role. Scientists are also still trying to figure out what it is about the royal

  • jelly that lets it change a larva's whole life. For a while we thought it might be

  • a hormone in the jelly or the way it affected insulin signals in the larvae

  • then another 2011 study zeroed in on a protein called ROYALACTIN which when

  • isolated and combined with other nutrients can transform larvae into

  • queens just like royal jelly.

  • Once they emerge Queens continue eating royal jelly their entire lives and given

  • that the Queen lives a lot longer than the thousands of relatives around her,

  • it sounds like a reasonable dietary choice for a royal bee to make. Thank you

  • for watching this SciShow dose which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon,

  • if you want to help support the show you can go to and if you

  • want to keep getting smarter with us

  • just go to and subscribe



Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B2 H-INT US jelly royal queen hive worker larva

How a Bee Becomes Queen

  • 56 4
    g2 posted on 2016/10/06
Video vocabulary