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Honeybees

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Honeybee (Apis mellifera) societies are a good example of organized complexity, because they contain two castes, each one dependent on the other:

(I'm leaving out male bees to simplify the discussion)

Not surprisingly, honeybees found new hives by a queen taking along a big swarm of worker bees -- who do nearly all the work of site-hunting.

It may be difficult to picture how honeybees could have evolved from solitary bees, since both queens and workers are necessary for each other's continued existence. But there are many species of bees that have much simpler societies. Bumblebees (Bombus sp.) have queens and workers, but a queen founds a hive in isolation, selecting a site, building a comb, and collecting nectar and pollen for her offspring. These become worker bees, which help the queen in her labors, and at the end of the active season, the hive produces a new brood of queens. These survive the coming winter in isolation; the workers die. And after the winter, the queens found new hives.

This is a textbook-perfect intermediate between the habits of solitary bees and those of honeybees. Early in a hive's existence, the queen acts like a solitary bee, while late in its existence, the queen is more like a honeybee queen, assisted by a hiveful of workers.

Going from a solitary bee to a bumblebee requires that some of a female's daughters nest with her and raise her offspring -- and forego their own reproduction, becoming workers.

Going from a bumblebee to a honeybee requires that a queen become able to recruit a swarm of workers to found a new hive -- and become totally dependent on them.

Similar pathways can be found for many other irreducibly-complex structures; many honeybee equivalents have known bumblebee equivalents, or at least those that can be reasonably inferred to exist. Michael Behe and other "irreducible complexity" theorists are essentially claiming that no bumblebee equivalents exist in some cases; is that conclusion supportable?

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