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Queens of the Natural World

Queens of the Natural World

Queens of the Natural World

Posted March 8, 2020

March 8th is International Women’s Day, which celebrates the achievements of women across the globe. Women aren’t just amazing in the human world, they also rule the pest world.

There are many powerful female insects with unique abilities, including familiar species of spiders, bees, and termites. They have influenced industries from pop culture to agriculture and can even influence the destruction of your home.

Spider Females

Many animals out there are dominated by the females of the species, including spiders. And the most notorious spider of them all is the black widow spider.

In the human world, men are often physically larger and stronger than women, but spiders are just the opposite. Female black widow spiders are at least two times larger than the males, and a female’s venom is many times stronger.

The human equivalent would be a six-foot-tall man being dwarfed by his twelve-foot-tall wife! If that man could bench press 280 pounds, his wife could lift over 550 pounds!

Black widows aren’t the only spider species with impressive females. In fact, almost all spider females are larger, more poisonous, and more brightly colored than their male counterparts.

Female Honeybees

Honeybees are the most successful pollinators in the world, and their hives are some of the most efficient societies on earth. Each hive is run by strong females and ruled by a queen with impressive abilities.

The workers in a hive are exclusively female. They perform all the tasks needed to maintain the hive — feeding developing larvae, monitoring egg growth, protecting the hive from invasion or intruders, and most importantly, collecting all the honey. These hardworking females have to make about ten million trips collectively to gather enough flower nectar to produce one pound of honey!

You could almost think of a honeybee hive as an industry made up entirely of women working tirelessly for the good of the hive and the world’s ecosystems.

The honeybee queen (center, with a tiny dot on her back) attending her duties

The honeybee queen (center, with a tiny dot on her back) attending her duties

Male honeybees are called drones, and they’re about as boring as their name implies. Male honeybees are weaker than females and have no stinger. Their sole purpose is to mate with a new queen and die immediately afterward.

Honeybee queens maintain the hive in many ways, including egg production. A healthy honeybee queen can typically lay 2,000 eggs per day!

The bee queen is about twice the size of the worker bees and maintains order in the hive using pheromones. That would be like a CEO running a giant company with tens of thousands of employees using nothing but bottles of perfume. The queen’s chemical cocktails must work, though, since honeybees produce about ten times more honey than the hive needs to survive.

Termite Queens

Unlike beehives, termite colonies are made up of male and female workers. But the ultimate member of the colony is the termite queen.

A termite queen being attended by workers and soldiers. Notice that the queen’s tiny upper body (left) is many times smaller than her abdomen

A termite queen being attended by workers and soldiers. Notice that the queen’s tiny upper body (left) is many times smaller than her abdomen

Termite queens are the longest-living insects in the world, living between 20-50 years!

Just like honeybee queens, termite queens also maintain order using pheromones. A queen is able to do this even though she spends her entire life in a disk-like structure made of dirt, called “The queen’s chamber.”

The queen’s abdomen grows to be about as long as a human index finger, so she doesn’t move around very much. She is constantly nourished, cleaned, and guarded by an entourage of workers that help her lay eggs. Her husband, the king, loyally stays by her side his entire life.

Termite queens can lay an egg about every three seconds or somewhere around 30,000 eggs per day on average — some queens lay even more! Knowing that she’s constantly giving birth for up to 50 years gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Long live the queen!”

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