Queen bees demand, and receive, absolute loyalty from their hives. When they are nearing the end of their reigns, they try to arrange to keep their family in power and have one of their daughters assume the throne. But that doesn’t always work out and the struggle over succession can be pretty brutal. This might give George R.R. Martin some ideas.
As far as I can tell, my queen died sometime in the spring. Queens typically live for about four or five years, so this caught me by surprise. A new queen, however, is a regular event in the life of a hive. Beekeepers frequently replace their queens every year or two to introduce genetic variety and ensure that the hive has a strong monarch who can lay enough eggs to keep the population up. Bees can also raise their own queen, and when I did an inspection early that spring, I was pleased to see that mine had taken the initiative. Before she died, my old queen must have laid a few fertilized eggs that worker bees raised as replacements. They would have selected six or seven fertilized (female) eggs and fed them only royal jelly. When the first queen hatched, she would have immediately killed any unhatched competition and ideally flown a few mating flights, storing enough semen in her abdomen to spend the rest of her life laying eggs.
While a newborn queen may seem ruthless, the success of a beehive hinges on allegiance to its queen. Though she can mate with an average of 12 different drones, there is only one queen, which makes for a hive of closely related bees. As a new queen begins to produce her own pheromones, the hive slowly aligns with her as the old bees die and new workers hatch. In a sense, the hive is genetically wired to be loyal to the monarchy. If the hive was to raise multiple queens, or if the workers were to start laying eggs, the interests of the population would slowly fracture…
Bees have about 165 pheromone receptors on their antennae and though it’s not entirely clear how workers “decide” what to do and when (the question of agency is still very much up for debate), it is certain that the queen’s pheromones prompt them to go about their business. When the reigning monarch dies or stops laying eggs in her old age, the change in her pheromones prompts the hive to raise a replacement, as my hive had done. Similarly, if a new queen arrives and releases her pheromones before those of the old queen have dispersed, the hive will consider the new queen an invader, and kill her. Above all, they are loyal to their queen. I did not fully grasp this fact. Because I waited only six hours between queens, the worker bees probably stung my new queen to death within an hour.