What You Need to Know About the Queen Bee
Okay, you know lots of honey bee facts? What about the most popular member of the hive. Everything involving hive life evolves around her. Yes, I am talking about the honey bee queen. Let’s explore some amazing queen bee facts and you will understand why she is so important.
Researchers have studied bees for a very long time. But, we still do not know everything about honey bee life.
However, we have learned a lot about bees and how they function as a family. The importance of the bee who is the mother of the hive is obvious in many aspects of colony life.
From egg laying to bee colony communication, the queen honey bee fills a role that no other bee can.
What Does the Queen Bee Look Like?
In this way she is no different from the other bees in the hive. She has the same development stages and basic needs.
A quick glance and you will notice a major visible difference in the shape of the honey bee queen. She has a large, long abdomen.
This anatomical difference allows her to lay fertilized eggs for the colony. That long tail reaches deep down into the honeycomb cells. At the bottom a single egg is attached to the bottom of the cell.
The large abdomen holds ovaries that will produce a lifetime’s quantity of eggs. Also, inside is a spermatheca that holds stored semen from the mating process.
Are Queen Bees Bigger?
The largest bee in the colony, a mature mated queen is about twice the size of the worker bees.
This is due primarily to her long abdomen. However, her middle section or “thorax” is slightly larger than the worker bees also.
Her size can vary a bit due to the type of bee (or race) she belongs to. And also, her age – young virgin queens look smaller.
A virgin queen bee will have a shorter abdomen until she begins to lay eggs. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell a virgin from a regular larger worker bee.
Sometime beekeepers feel that the size of the queen can play a role in her value. This can be true but it is not the only factor to consider. – Does Queen Bee Size Matter?
It is common for new beekeepers to confuse Drone Bees as queens. Drones are larger than worker bees but lack the long abdomen.
What Does the Queen Do?
She actually has a couple of functions in the hive – that we know of. Who knows what we have not yet discovered?
The mother of all the other bees in the colony, eggs laid by the queen become the work force of the hive. Without her no new worker bees can be raised.
In addition to laying eggs, her majesty produces pheromones. These pheromones are chemical messengers that aid in colony communication.
How is a New Queen Made?
The queen bee is not the only female in the colony. Thousands of female worker bees take care of tasks in the hive.
The one task that worker bees can not perform is laying fertilized eggs. If something happens to the queen, a new one must be made.
When the colony needs a new queen, worker bees select very young female larvae. These larvae were from fertilized eggs.
They are fed a special diet that causes them to develop into a reproductive bee instead of ordinary female worker bees.
For years, it was believed that a substance called royal jelly was responsible for reproductive development.
Today, researchers believe that other food substances are involved in this process.
Explore the Queen Bee Life Cycle for more information on the development and duties of a queen bee.
In spite of the best planning, sometimes a honey bee queen will die. The colony must spring into action quickly. The lack of a queen creates quite a buzz inside the colony. – What Happens if the Queen Bee Dies?
The Meaning of Queen Cells
Because a queen is larger than normal worker brood, she requires a larger cell for development. Workers create several queen cells at one time.
But, only one of the newly hatched virgins will survive to become the new matriarch of the colony.
Seeing queen cells in a colony is a sure sign that something big is happening. They are a sign of queen production but this can happen for various reasons.
We want to understand what the colony is trying to tell us. – Queen Cells – What Do They Mean
In addition to listening to the needs of the colony, there are also some things to consider before taking any action in regards to these cells – What do Do With Queen Cells?
How is the Queen Bee Chosen?
So, how is the one bee chosen to become the mother of the colony among several contenders? If a hive normally has one – somebody has got to go!
The first virgin queen to emerge from her cell searches out the other queen cells to destroy them. In theory, the strongest most fit bee will win the fight.
Queen Honey Bee Stinger
The queen’s function in the hive is highly specialized. Her stinger is not barbed, it is smooth.
The smooth singer is only used to kill rival virgins. Queen bees rarely sting humans. This is a good thing because is promotes genetic diversity.
Do Queens Leave the Hive?
These girls 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 her 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 Her Royal Majesty to leave the hive
- the virgin queen leaves the hive to mate
- a queen leaves with a swarm
Both activities relate to a honey bee reproduction cycle. The first involves mating and prepares the queen to lay fertilized eggs.
Leaving with a swarm is honey bee reproduction on a colony level. Both of these situations result in more bees.
How Honey Bees Recognize Their Leader?
Queen Bees Smell Funny. Okay, let me phrase it another way. Each queen has a unique smell.
She constantly emits pheromones. (These are like our hormones but on the outside.)
These pheromones are passed throughout the colony and tell the colony that all is well. Workers spread them by antenna touching and other grooming activities.
As the queen ages, she emits less pheromones. 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 her much sooner.
How Beekeepers Introduce A New Queen
Sometimes, a beekeeper will want to give the colony a new queen. This can be for a variety of reasons. Often an older one is replaced with a young healthy queen bee.
The beekeeper who keeps marked queens in their hives will be one step ahead when it comes time to replace her.
This is why you should consider learning how to do it yourself – How to Mark Your Queen Bee
Buying a Queen Bee
Buying a queen bee for a hive is a very common beekeeper task. You can even buy one online and have her shipped through the mail.
This is sometimes necessary and bee breeders commonly ship bees across the country.
Requeening Your Beehives
Providing a honey bee colony with a different queen is called “re-queening”. A beekeeper can not simply drop a new one in a colony.
Because of her pheromones, the new queen will smell different than all the other occupants. Workers of the colony view her as a threat and usually kill her.
Beekeepers have developed several different techniques to overcome the pheromone challenges. Learn more in my post about Requeening a Hive.
How to Spot the Queen Bee?
Chances are that you will never see one unless you are a beekeeper. The vast majority of her life is spent inside the beehive.
For new beekeepers, this task is one that is learned through time and practice. Learn more about – How to find the queen bee .
The world of the honey bee is full of never ending surprises. Learn more about some of the misconceptions about bees – 5 Amazing Myths About Queen Bees.
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.