The Queen Bee – Ruler or Servant?
The queen bee is undoubtedly the most popular honey bee in the hive. Everything involving hive life evolves around the queen bee. However, is she really in charge? Let’s explore some facts about the queen bee and find out!
Man (and woman) have been interacting with honey bees for thousands of years. So, we know everything about them by now, right?
No, nothing could be farther from the truth. We still do not know everything about bees. But, we have learned a lot about bees and the queen bee in particular.
Researchers and beekeepers continue to learn bee facts every year. How bees communicate with each other, how they interact with the environment and the roles played by individual bees are still being studied.
Much research has been done on the activities of queen bees in hives and the ritual of how one queen is chosen to rule. Yet, mysteries still exist.
Questions and Answers about The Queen Bee
The queen honey bee receives a lot of deserved attention. She is the most important single bee in the hive. Normally, a colony will only have 1 queen at a time.
Most people know that the queen lays eggs. The way bees reproduce would not be possible without this reproductive female.
But what else should you know about this “royal” honey bee? What is the life of the queen bee like?
Are Queen Bees Bigger?
How big is a Queen Bee? She is the largest bee in the honey bee colony.
A mature mated queen is about twice the size of the worker bees.This is due primarily to her long abdomen.
What Does a Queen Bee Look Like?
A queen honey bee is an insect. And we know from bee anatomy that all insects have 3 major body sections.
The queen has a long abdomen because of her role as mother of the colony. Her ovaries will produce a lifetime’s quantity of eggs.
The length also allows her to cement an egg into the bottom of a honey comb cell.
In order to manage a honey bee colony successfully, a beekeeper will often need to locate her. Learning how to find the queen bee can take some time and practice.
Drones (male bees) are often mistaken for a queen by beginning beekeepers. It’s an easy mistake to make.
This is especially difficult on a frame with hundreds of bees moving around.
Drones are wider and noticeably different than regular workers, but they cannot compare in length to a mature queen bee.
The number of drones present vary during the warm season. But, all drones and no workers is a sign of problems with your queen.
Looking for a Virgin Queen Bee
It is very easy to over-look a young virgin queen in a crowded colony. A new queen can look very similar in size to some of the workers.
As she matures and progresses into her egg laying role, she will plump up. Beekeepers should not be alarmed if they have a smallish queen early in the season.
Another situation involving queen size is the time of swarming. Worker bees feed the queen honey bee. When the colony is preparing to swarm, the queen is fed less than normal.
She will slim down making flight possible. Anyone who has ever stressed to find a slim queen in a hive of 60,000 bees understands the problem.
Is the Queen Bee Genetically Different?
As with most living things, one queen bee will have different genetic material than another. The characteristics of each queen will differ.
One may produce offspring that are good honey producers. Another may produce workers that are very defensive and hard to manage. This is why beekeepers will requeen a hive that has undesirable traits.
However, the queen honey bee develops from a fertilized egg. Any fertilized egg laid by a queen has the potential to become a queen bee. She shares the same genetic material as thousands of her sisters.
How is a Queen Made?
The queen bee is not the only female in the colony. Thousands of female worker bees take care of all the tasks involved in bee life.
But when the colony needs a new queen, worker bees select very young female larva. They will be fed a special diet that causes them to develop into queen bees.
The quality and quantity of food feed to a female bee larva determines reproductive development.
For years, it was believed that only royal jelly was responsible for queen development. Today, researchers are thinking that other food substances may be involved.
How Long Does It Take for a Queen Bee to be Born?
Honey bees are insects that develop through several stages. The four stages are : egg, larva, pupa and adult.
The honey bee life cycle is amazing. Worker bees develop from egg to adult in 21 days. Drone bees make the same journey in 24 days.
But it only takes 16 days for the most vital bee in the hive to reach adulthood!
Instead of being “born”, we use the term “emerge”. An adult queen will “emerge” from her cell 16 days after the egg was laid.
What Does the Queen Bee Do?
Function of the Queen Bee
News alert !! The queen is not the boss of the hive !
WHAT?! It’s true that she is important. However, it is an amazing queen bee fact that she does not make all the important decisions.
Inside the colony, workers feed the queen. She does not feed, groom or clean herself. If the workers don’t feed her, her health suffers.
She relies on her “retinue” of workers for her every need.
The Queen Decides Where to Lay Eggs Right?
Yes, the queen bee does lay eggs but the workers play an important role in that as well.
The queen bee moves across the honeycomb surface checking empty cells. She measures them with her antenna and front legs.
This is to determine whether it is a worker-sized cell or a drone-sized cell. An unfertilized egg is laid in a drone-sized cell – those in the worker cell are fertilized inside the queen’s body.
But, the queen bee will not lay in a cell that the worker bees have not cleaned and polished.
If the colony needs drones, the workers prepare drone-sized cells. If no drones are needed, those honeycomb cells will not be cleaned for the queen to use.
Do Queen Bees Have Stingers?
Yes, they do have stingers. But, queen bees are not aggressive – at least not towards us. She does not participate in defending the colony.
How is the Queen Bee Chosen?
When a colony needs a new queen, they will actually raise several young queens at the same time. This is to increase their chances of success – in case something happens to some of the cells.
The first virgin queen to emerge from her cell decides who is chosen as queen. She searches out the other queen cells to destroy them.
If more than one virgin queen emerges at the same time, a true queen bee fight will ensue.
The queen bee’s function in the hive is highly specialized. Her stinger is not barbed, it is smooth. She uses her stinger to kill rival virgin queens. Queen bees rarely sting humans.
Almost everyone knows that a worker honey bee dies as a result of stinging a person or other mammal. But a queen bee can sting you and live to talk to about it!
Why? Because a worker bee has the job of colony defense. When workers sting, their barbed stinger sticks in your skin.
This causes the stinger and poison sac to rip out and continue to inject venom!
ITf you get stung by a honey bee, you may try some sting remedies for relief!
Mating Facts of the Honey Bee
Queen honey bees do not mate inside the hive. A few days after emerging from her queen cell, she will take flight on a warm, sunny afternoon.
How does she know where to go? We don’t know the answer to that . (I told you we still had things to learn about bees.)
If the virgin queen mated inside the hive, she would be mating with her brothers. By mating well away from her colony, she is more likely to mate with unrelated drones.
This is a good thing because is promotes genetic diversity.
Do Queens Leave the Hive?
Queen bees just don’t get out a lot.They might be described as home-bodies, or rather, hive-bodies?
Workers take care of her every need. Royal jelly consumed by the queen bee results in little waste products.
Fed and cleaned by her daughters, she has few reasons to leave the hive.
There are only 2 occasions for the queen bee to leave the hive
- the virgin queen leaves the hive to mate
- a queen leaves with a swarm
How Honey Bees Recognize Their Queen
Queen Bees Smell Funny. Okay, let me phrase it another way.
Each queen bee has a unique smell. Smell is very important to honey bees. They use odors as a form of communication.
A queen constantly emits pheromones. (These are like our hormones but on the outside.) These pheromones are passed throughout the colony.
Workers spread them by antenna touching and other grooming activities. As the queen bee ages, she emits less pheromones.
Eventually, the colony will make a new (pheromone rich) queen to replace her. Egg production is highest in young queens and declines over time.
As egg laying and pheromone levels drop, her time is growing short. She may have the ability to live up to 2 years. But most colonies replace their queen much sooner.
How Beekeepers Introduce A New Queen
This queen pheromone activity is very important. Abeekeeper can not simply drop a new queen in a queen-less colony.
She will smell different than all the other occupants. Workers of the colony view her as a threat and usually kill her.
Bee suppliers place a new queen in a special cage (queen cage) that is placed inside the hive. This queen cage gives colony members a chance to get to know her.
Hive workers will feed her through the wire and after a period of time (usually 3 – 7 days), she is accepted as the new queen.
I also like to mark my queens, this makes finding and replacing a queen easier. Being able to find your queen is a good skill to perfect.
Don’t be upset if it takes you a while to learn how to find a queen bee: marked or not. It takes time and practice.
Want to practice finding queens? (Wish the quality was better but its still good practice and fun for everyone !) – Video
We know so many bee facts in general. But, we have a long way to go to unlock all the mysteries of the honey bee.
And, even though role of the queen bee is vital – she does not make all the decisions for the hive.
I have been studying honey bees for many years and still feel that I know so little. If you are considering beekeeping, I have a tip.
Check out my online beekeeping class. It contains hours of video with practical beekeeping information.