Queen Bee Facts

Pinterest Hidden Image

Let’s explore some amazing facts about the queen bee. She is not a ruler but an intricate thread in colony life. The queen bee is the most well-known member of a honey bee colony. Every part of colony life revolves around this important individual. She can not live without the other members of the hive. But, a colony will not survive for long without her either.

Large dark honey bee queen on comb with retinue of workers.

The members of a honey bee colony work together for the benefit of the whole hive. But, the role of the queen bee is so important – it can not be duplicated by any other individuals.

Fascinating Queen Bee Facts

Honey bees have been studied for thousands of years. We still do not know everything about their life. But, we have learned a lot about bees and how they function as a family.

One obvious standout is of course – the queen. Prepare to learn some new facts about the queen that you may not have heard before. And perhaps, we will dispel a few myths too.

The queen honey bee is a hive standout in several areas:

  • reproduction marvels
  • size and appearance
  • mating insights
  • stinging abilities
  • egg laying
  • leadership in the hive

Reproduction

The queen honey bee is the only member of the colony capable of mating and laying fertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs develop into female worker bees – a colony needs thousands of workers to maintain the hive.

When her egg laying abilities start to diminish, the colony will make a cohesive decision to replace her. Worker bees kill the queen and rear a new one from the provided fertilized eggs.

Size and Appearance

Due to the larger size of a queen honey bee compared to workers, she is fairly easy to distinguish. That’s a great thing for beekeepers who have to learn how to find the queen in a beehive.

Her long, tapered abdomen holds ovaries containing thousands of bee eggs to be laid during her lifetime.

Otherwise, she has basically the same honey bee anatomy as her nest mates – but she does lack pollen baskets. She does not work outside the hive.

Large mated queen honey bee laying in hive image.

Mating of the Queen

A virgin queen honey bee leaves the hive to mate – honey bees reproduce differently than some insects. The queen only mates during a few days in young adulthood and never again.

After mating with several male bees (drones), she stored semen in a special organ located in her abdomen called – the spermatheca.

Join Our Beekeeping Community

Free "Secrets to Successful Beekeeping" plus weekly newsletter with info about bees, beekeeping and more...

Unique Stinging Abilities

A queen bee does have a stinger but it is different than that of worker bees. Her stinger lacks the barb at the end. It is not used for colony defense – but rather to kill her rivals.

When a colony needs a new queen, they build several queen cells. Only one can become queen – the first virgin queen to emerge will seek out and kill the others.

Efficient Egg Laying

Egg laying is such an important part of colony life-that the queen bee can lay thousands of eggs per day during peak season.

This is necessary to sustain colony population. Honey bees do not live for very long – a constant source of new bees is necessary.

Leadership in the Colony

Now, we must dispel a myth. In fact, queen bees are not in charge. They do not rule the colony and make important decisions. It is the collective decision-making process of worker bees that direct colony actions.

However, the role of pheromones in the bee colony can not be overlooked. Queens do emit special pheromones that tell the colony that she is present and doing her job. This sense of peace is important to daily hive life.

Large queen cell among capped brood in a hive image.

How a New Queen Bee is Made

In spite of the best planning, bees don’t live forever. If the queen bee dies, the colony must spring into action quickly.

If the queen bee is missing, the colony known right away. Some resources say that the bees can recognize her absence within 15-30 minutes and replacement plans begin.

The life cycle of a queen honey bee begins with a fertilized egg. Tiny female bee larvae are selected and fed copious amounts of rich food by nurse bees.

This causes the larvae to develop into reproductive females capable of mating. (For years, it was believed that a substance called royal jelly was responsible for reproductive development in bees. Today, researchers believe that other food substances are involved in this process too.)

Approximately 16 days after egg is laid, the new virgins emerge. One will survive to rule the colony. Mating takes place in mid-air with 12-20 drones from other colonies at drone congregation areas. This promotes genetic diversity in the colony population.

A hive without a queen bee is “queenless” and the colony recognizes the severity of the situation. Workers begin the process of replacing her within hours.

It takes 16 days for a new queen to be produced and additional time for her to mature and mate. The future of the hive depends quick decision making by members of the colony.

Sometimes, beekeepers need to buy a new queen bee for colonies unable to produce one.

infographic chart of queen bee myths and facts.

FAQs

Can a colony have more than 1 queen bee?

Normally a colony has only 1 queen bee at a time. However, a colony that is in transition may actually have 2 queens for a short time during queen replacement.

Is the queen honey bee the only egg layer?

The queen is the only reproductive female capable of mating and laying fertilized eggs that develop into worker bees.

But, worker bees are also female. In certain conditions, laying workers may lay unfertilized eggs that become drones.

Does the queen bee mate inside the hive?

No, a queen bee can not mate inside the beehive. Honey bee mating takes place while in flight. After mating with 12-20 drones, the queen bee returns to the colony to begin her role as mother of the colony.

Is the queen bee selected by the workers?

Workers select very young female larvae and construct queen cells. However, the first virgin queen to emerge from her cell will seek out and destroy the others.

Worker bees play a minor role in queen selection. But, it is the fight among the virgin queens that determines the new monarch.

Are queen bees unable to fly?

Queen bees can fly. Like any honey bee, the queen has 2 pair of wings capable of flight when needed. She does not leave the hive on a daily basis – only for mating and swarming.

Is the queen bee really in charge?

The queen does not rule the colony. Worker bees 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.

How do honey bees recognize their queen?

Each queen honey bee has a unique smell due to pheromones. These pheromones are passed throughout the colony and tell the colony that all is well.

Bees use their antenna to distribute the pheromones through touching and grooming activities.

Final Thoughts

When we study the facts about queen bees and the things they do and don’t do – we are entering the very heart of hive life. While the queen is vital to colony life, she does not actually rule the colony as one might think. Instead, the whole colony survives due to the collective efforts of all.

Leave a Reply

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