By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
In a sobering statistic, scientists found 200 queens in a murder hornet nest, Science Alert reported. Each queen would have been capable of starting its own colony, had it lived long enough. Hornet queens are vital to colonies.
According to Science Alert, the first real picture of the murder hornet threat isn’t a pretty one. “After months of searching, in October scientists located and destroyed the first nest of giant ‘murder hornets’ ever discovered in the U.S., eradicating a hidden enclave of the invasive insects concealed in a tree in Washington State, close to the Canadian border,” the article said.
“Inside the nest, the researchers tallied 76 adult queens. In addition, 108 capped cells with pupae were found, most of which the entomologists think would also have been virgin queens in development.”
Despite their bad reputation, hornets work hard as pollinators for plants, much like honeybees do. Their colonies begin with queens.
The Queen’s Gambit
“During a mating flight, the virgin queen bee may mate with many males,” said Dr. Donald E. Moore III, Director of the Oregon Zoo and Senior Science Advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “The male inserts his endophallus into the queen during her one-and-only mating flight, discharges his sperm, and leaves his endophallus behind her as he withdraws. This rips his abdomen open, and males die after mating.”
It may not be the worst first date in the animal kingdom, but surely it ranks pretty high. However, after the queen has mated, she may lay up to a million eggs in her lifetime. She lays them in individual cells in a honeycomb structure made of beeswax, forming a new colony. This occurs during the winter months.
“The queen can choose to fertilize or not fertilize an egg as it moves through her oviduct,” Dr. Moore said. “Fertilized eggs all become female worker bees, while unfertilized eggs become drones or male bees. The worker bees can also lay eggs, but they are unfertilized, so the insect that emerges is a drone.”
Dr. Moore said that each bee egg is only half the size of a grain of rice, and that when it comes to honeybee queens, they can lay 2,000 eggs a day. Once the eggs are laid, a sense of community spirit kicks in.
“Worker bees feed the larvae with either honey or royal jelly, a substance made of pollen and glandular excretions from worker bees until the larvae’s adult development into workers, queens, or drones is complete,” he said. “The whole process takes about a week. When the queen can no longer lay eggs, a new queen will emerge to take her place.”
Like many other species of bees, hornets pollinate flowers, which is an important job for life on Earth. However, scientists who destroyed the first murder hornet nest in Washington State were quick to point out that the nest is indicative of the danger that this particular species poses.
Dr. Donald E. Moore III contributed to this article. Dr. Moore is director of the Oregon Zoo and senior science advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, is a conservation biologist with nearly 40 years of experience in wildlife conservation, animal welfare, and zoo management. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Zoology and a doctoral degree in Conservation Biology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.