Queen Bee Dies

Pinterest Hidden Image

Within the social hierarchy of a honey bee colony, the death of the queen bee throws the colony into turmoil. She is the single most important individual in the colony and usually a colony only has one queen. What happens if the queen bee dies? The entire colony goes into emergency mode. If at all possible, plans to make a replacement begin almost immediately.

Older queen honey bee in danger of dying this season with workers on comb.

The role of a queen honey bee can not be fulfilled by the thousands of colony workers. Her ability to mate and lay fertilized eggs that become worker bees is indispensable.

What Happens When a Queen Bee Dies?

There are several reasons a colony may experience a queen bee that dies. First, honey bees do not live very long. A worker bee born in the warm season only lives about 6 weeks – Winter workers live longer.

A queen bee is long-lived compared to other members of the colony (2-3 years). But, there will come a time that she too will perish. And if performance lags (even in a young queen) the bees will kill the queen and replace her.

Method for Replacement

One of the most fascinating queen bee facts is that the colony can make a new queen from any fertilized bee egg or tiny female larva.

Thankfully, this system for making sure a queen is always in residence works well – most of the time.

Fresh worker eggs and larva and queen cell for emergency replacement due to queen death.

Signs of Trouble in the Colony

Queens do not always die suddenly. Sometimes, there are signs that trouble in brewing in this utopian bee society.

  • failing pheromones
  • problems with egg laying

Falling Pheromones

Queens produce special bee pheromones that are recognized by other members of the colony. These “external hormones” are the chemical messengers of the hive.

Select workers (the queen’s retinue) feed and groom her with their antennae. During the process, pheromones are passed throughout the hive.

The presence of her pheromones and those given off by developing bee brood inform the colony that all is well. Colony life is going along as it should.

If those pheromone levels disappear or drop, the colony knows that their queen is dead or failing.

Lack of Fertilized Eggs

Often the queen may not die – but begins to lag in egg production. When young and in good health, she is an egg laying machine. Depending on colony conditions, she can easily average 1000 to 2000 eggs per day.

However, she has a limited supply of eggs and stored sperm. Once these are exhausted so is her usefulness to the colony. When the ratio of worker brood to drone brood is way off – the bees know.

Immediate Impact of Queen Death

Poor mating, disease, bad genetics or a beekeeping accident can result in a colony that is queenless – due to queen death.

Honey bee predators (such as an attack by a bear) have been known to cause death of the queen. And, bee robbing incidents can result in queen loss.

Some studies suggest that the colony is aware of a dead queen within minutes of the event. Most certainly plans to replace her are in full motion within a few hours of loss.

Behavior Change

Death of a queen bee represents a dangerous time for the honey bee colony. It is not uncommon to find that the colony restless or louder than normal. You may even notice an increase in bee aggression during this time.

Tense bees on comb of a hive in turmoil.

Emergency Queen Replacement

When the queen bee dies suddenly time is of the essence. Workers spring into action building special emergency queen cells.

A few very young female larvae are selected from the brood nest. Enlarging the cells to hold developing queens begins in earnest.

These chosen bee larvae are fed a copious diet of rich brood food. The food fed to developing queen larva consists of royal jelly – but also other substances. Earlier, we believed that future queens were only fed royal jelly – this has proven to be false.

The amount and consistency of this special diet causes the selected larvae to develop into sexually reproduction females- new virgin queens.

Approximately 16 days after the eggs were laid – virgin queens begin to emerge. Usually, the first queen to emerge will kill the others still inside the cells.

Now, she must be mated. Honey bees reproduce by mating outside the hive.

On a nice afternoon, the virgin queen flies to a drone congregation area – where she mates with multiple male bees – drone bees.

After mating with 12-20 drones her spermatheca is filled with semen. Her time of mating is over. She will never leave the hive again unless she is part of a honey bee swarm.

Within 3-5 days of mating, she begins to lay. Now, the cycle is complete and our bee colony has replaced their lost queen.

During hive inspection beekeeper handles frame with care to avoid damaging queen bee.

Queen Dies Because of Beekeeper Error

Most beekeepers try very hard to protect this most important bee in the hive-but things happen. She can be accidentally killed during hive inspections or other beekeeping tasks.

When this happens, you are faced with the decision of whether to let the colony try to raise a new one or should you requeen the colony.

No harm in letting them try if the colony is strong enough and has the fresh eggs or larva. But you must check back in a couple of weeks to ensure they were successful.

FAQs

Can a bee colony live without a queen?

A colony without a queen will continue for a while. Due to the lack of pheromones, some bees may become laying workers in an attempt to spread their genetic heritage. But the colony is doomed and will fail within a couple of months.

Will bees replace a dead queen?

Honey bees will replace a dead queen if they have fertilized eggs or larvae in place and enough of a population to sustain the colony until a new queen is made.

What happens to bee if the queen is killed?

If you queen honey bee is killed, worker begin immediate construction of emergency queen cells. Larvae of the correct age are selected and fed to promote their development into queens.

A Final Word

When a queen honey bee dies, the colony knows that their survival is at risk. The mood of a colony in transition may be more testy as they swing into action in an attempt to correct the problem. Any hive that is not successful in replacing the queen is in need of help from the beekeeper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 Comments

  1. Your blog is an invaluable resource for a novice beekeeper and your passion for bees shines brightly! Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Charlotte.

  2. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Thank you Shannon. I don’t know it all but the bees have taught me a lot. If only I would stop making the same mistakes more than once 😉

  3. Suzanne Lee says:

    OK, I found your article.
    My bee are not being aggressive. but not sure if I have larva in the colony.
    I quess I need to look again and keep reading.