For honey bees, making a new queen is as simple as adding royal jelly, a unique protein rich secretion, to the cell of a growing larvae. This fairly well studied addition causes a cascade of physiological changes in the growing larvae and voila! A queen is born.
However, what causes a baby bumblebee to become royalty remains a mystery. They don’t produce royal jelly but they produce a unique barf for their young. Enter entomologist Hollis Woodard and her students at UC Riverside who hope that by understanding how queens are created, they can mitigate on-going extinction crises in bumblebees species.
Woodard and company begin by heading up to San Bernardino mountains outside Los Angeles. Here, the researchers collect emerging queens as they buzz around the blooming Manzanita shrubs. These queens are brought back to the lab, where the establish their own (see through) honeypots.
Lavished with food by the lab members, the queens lay dozens of larvae which become daughter drones. These drones are then “milked” for their barf which is analyzed for its chemical properties. Future larvae are hand fed the analyzed barf in various quantities and intervals to determine what factors lead to the generation of queen bees.