Facts & Myths about Queen Bees
The queen honey bee is by far the most well known honey bee in the colony. We know a lot about the importance of this reproductive female. In fact, many books have been written covering many queen bee facts. Still in spite of all our knowledge, myths about Queen Bees still exist. Let’s explore the differences between fact and fiction about our most popular bee.
Each healthy honey bee colony must have a queen bee. A regular colony contains thousands of female bees called worker bees.
But, the queen bee is the only one that can mate and lay fertilized eggs. Without her, no new worker bees will be produced and the colony will fail.
Myth #1 – A Colony Never Has More than 1 Queen Bee
It is a fact that a honey bee colony only has 1 queen bees in normal instances. However, a colony that is in transition may actually have 2 queens for a short time.
The most common time for this to occur is during queen replacement. If the old queen is failing, the colony may make a new queen.
The old queen is usually killed by the new queen or the workers. However, sometimes, the 2 queens will co-exist for a short time.
This may happen more often that we realize. When a beekeeper is inspecting a hive and finds a queen, we often stop looking for another.
Myth #2 – The Queen Honey Bee is the Only Bee that Lays Eggs
While the queen is the only reproductive female capable of mating, she is not the only one that can lay eggs.
Worker bees are also females. In a stressful situation where a colony has lost its queen, worker bees will begin to lay eggs.
Unfortunately, workers can not mate. Their unfertilized eggs will develop into drone bees (males) – not workers.
A colony without a mated queen is doomed. Population will drop until the colony dies or is robbed out by a stronger colony.
Myth #3 – A Queen Bee Mates Inside the Hive
No, a queen can not mate inside the beehive. When a virgin queen is ready to mate, she will fly outside to a special area where drones congregate.
Honey bee mating takes place while in flight. Drones in the area will sense the queen and mate with her in the air. Hundreds of drones will chase the virgin queens.
After mating with 12-20 drones, the queen bee returns to the colony to begin her role as mother of the colony.
Myth #4 – The Bee Colony Decides Who Will Be Queen
When a colony is in need of a queen, they will attempt to rear a new one. Selecting very young worker larvae, several queen cells are constructed.
The first virgin queen to emerge from her queen cell will seek out and destroy her sisters.
The workers play a minor role in queen selection. But, it is the fight among the virgin queens that determines the new monarch.
Myth #5 Queen Bees Do Not Sting
The queen bee does have a stinger. But, the queen’s stinger is different that a worker stinger. Instead of being barbed, it is long and smooth.
The queen does not sting to defend the hive. Her sting is used to battle rival virgin queens. Once she emerges from her queen cell, she seeks out and kills rival queens.
Myth #6 Queen Bees Can Not Fly
Like any honey bee, the queen has 2 pair of wings. During the life cycle of the queen bee, she flies on 2 occasions.
As a young virgin queen, she flies to drone congregation areas for the purpose of mating. This takes place during several afternoon flights during the first few weeks of her life.
The second time a queen bee may fly is during swarming. When a strong colony swarms, the queen bee will fly with the swarm to a new home.
Otherwise, the queen does not fly outside the hive on daily activities. She is too fat and swollen with egg production to fly.
And, she does not need to go outside. Her attendants take care of her every need.
Myth #7 The Queen Bee Is in Charge
As the mother of all the bees in a colony, it seems natural that she would be in charge. Sadly, this is not true.
The queen is the only bee capable of laying fertilized eggs but she does not make colony decisions. It is the worker bees who make decisions for the colony.
When egg laying is needed, the worker clean cells and prepare them for the queen. She will not lay in a cell that has not been prepared.
The queen bee does not feed herself, she is groomed and fed by worker bees.
When the colony is preparing to swarm, the queen’s diet is changed to allow her to slim down for flight.
It is easy to see that the queen honey bees is one fantastic bee. A colony can not survive without a good quality queen.
But in spite of her value to the hive, the queen bee is not the boss or in charge of all hive activities.
She is 1 part of a large community. Each part of the honey bee colony has an important role to play in bee life.