Besides providing a basis for hive legitimacy, the queen is also the sole reproductive individual, responsible for laying every egg that will be raised in the hive. This is a big job. During the summer, she will lay about 2000 eggs per day and the hive will swell to multiple tens of thousands of bees. But beyond this, the queen’s role is limited. She doesn’t direct the actions of the members of the hive. No one does.
So, how does the hive function without central direction? Thermoregulation provides an example. Despite the fact that bees themselves are not homeothermic
, the hive is. The bees manage to keep the hive at 93-94°F (34°C) regardless of the outside air temperature.
How do the bees do that? The straightforward answer is that some bees go to the entrance of the hive and fan air to increase circulation when the internal temperature gets too high. When it gets too low, bees cluster in the center and generate heat by shivering .
The more interesting question is “how do the bees know to do that?” All the bees have similar genetic programming (algorithmic governance). But the tasks that they’re inclined to do depend on their age. The youngest workers clean cells, then move onto nursing functions, mortuary activities, guarding the hive, and finally, in the last weeks of their lives, to foraging for water, nectar, and pollen.
Bees have a genetic threshold for carrying out these tasks. The threshold changes as they age. A young bee has a very high threshold for foraging that decreases over her life. Further, these thresholds vary by patriline
(even though every bee in the hive has the same mother, there are many fathers), providing diversity.
So as the temperature in the hive climbs, a few bees go down to the hive entrance and fan. As it gets hotter, even more bees will take up the task, depending on their internal threshold. Their genetic programming, combined with the diversity in their thresholds, promotes an even response to temperature swings that could damage the hive.
More details on thermoregulation here: