While checking his hives, the beekeeper Joseph Zgurzynski discovered something very unusual: while all the other bees in the swarm had normal black eyes, one insect sported a pair of very large and creamy yellow eyes.
“I’ve been a beekeeper since 1976 and I’ve never seen anything like this” said beekeeping expert Zgurzynski, who manages more than 6 million bees in Pennsylvania. In fact, the pollinator also has another very special feature: it has both male and female traits. This phenomenon is called mosaic gynandromorph and is extremely rare.
This rare combination has so far been observed in living beings such as butterflies, crustaceans, reptiles and birds. This was the first time it had been documented in a Central and South American night bee.
Scholars have speculated that an aberration occurred during the bee’s development, i.e. an abnormality in the course of growth. But in reality, biologists are not yet able to confirm this.
Where does this perfect collage come from? According to observations made on honeybees, it could be due to a reproductive mishap. While in humans the determination of the sex of the unborn child depends on the X and Y sex chromosomes, in bees it is linked to the amount of genetic material within an embryo and then its cells. Fertilised egg cells after the queen’s “nuptial flights” will give rise to female bees. The unfertilised ones give rise to male bees (drones, which do not work inside the hive).
However, it can happen that spermatozoa from a second or third male enter an already fertilised egg cell (a future female) and this gives rise to two cell lines of the opposite gender: that embryo will have both male and female tissues. Another explanation is that a female embryo makes a copying error while multiplying its cells, and generates one female and one male cell instead of two female cells. From this, two distinct and divergent cell lines would develop.
“These mutants are seen as easily ignored…” says Krichilsky, a bee expert “…but I think we are underestimating them.” According to the expert, these insects could be evolutionary precursors to new life forms and would therefore be extremely valuable to us humans.
Zgurzynski has kept the special yellow-eyed bee in a glass jar to protect it as much as possible. It may seem like a cruel idea, but the beekeeping expert felt that this action was essential to protect the bee. The insect would most probably have died if it had not been cared for in this way. In fact, the pigmentation of the eyes made the bee totally blind and thus its survival on Earth even more at risk.
It is not yet known how the physical condition of this special bee affects its longevity and fertility. Bee experts and scientists are currently trying to study this strange case.
What is certain – we will never tire of saying this – is that nature never ceases to amaze us and always wins!