Honeybees are one of the most important species on our planet because of their significant contributions to the pollination of food-bearing plants and the creation of honey and beeswax that humans use for food and other products. In fact, bees are responsible for a whopping one out of every four bites of food we take in.
In recent years, there’s been a significant concern raised about the ways in which humans are endangering our bee friends. Pesticides like neonicotinoids, for example, are harming bee populations. Clearcutting, deforestation, and climate change are other issues humans have caused that threaten bees, along with a variety of other important species. Continuation of these practices could have a detrimental impact on not only the bees but also our planet, our food, and, ultimately, life as we know it.
It’s obvious that humans need to enact changes to stop harming bees. But what about when the bees harm each other?
One of the ways in which bees cause harm to other bees is referred to as “queen balling.” When a queen gets too old to produce eggs, or when a rogue queen invades a colony that rejects her, the worker bees participate in queen balling to get rid of the unwanted queen in favor of another queen.
Queen balling involves several worker bees surrounding the target queen and essentially smothering her with their own body heat. They beat their wings so rapidly and hold her so tightly in the center of their ball of bodies that she overheats and dies. Terrifying, really. In the video below, the narrator even demonstrates how the queen “yells” for them to stop as they ball up around her.
@howsyourdayhoney3 Queen balling. This is how honeybees kill a queen bee!! #fyp #facts #foryou #savethebees ♬ original sound – Elisha Bixler
Queen balling may not be the most humane way of killing a bee, but sometimes that’s just the way the animal kingdom works. Nevertheless, it’s got the online community squirming uncomfortably.
“New level of anxiety unlocked,” commented one TikTok user.
And this is far from the only occasion when bees kill one another. In fact, it’s actually very common for worker bees to throw the drones that don’t manage to mate with a queen out of the hive when winter encroaches. At that point, they’ve outlived their usefulness (since they only have one purpose – to mate with queen bees) and are just another hungry mouth to feed in the winter. In the interest of making sure the entire hive has enough food for winter, the worker bees bite the wings off their brother drones and evict them from the hive, where they will starve or freeze to death.
What do you think? Is this just a fact of life, or is it a horrifying new discovery about what we once thought of as the relatively gentle world of bees?