Queen Bee Size – What Does it Tell You?
Without a doubt the queen bee is the most well-known honey bee in the colony. Noticeably larger than worker bees, queen bee size varies a bit from one colony to another. Age, genetics and feeding during development all play a role in determining how big a queen honey bee gets. Despite how small or large she may be – her importance to the colony is one of the well-known queen bee facts.
How Big is a Queen Bee?
A queen bee is around 20-25mm in size. This may not sound very large but it is about double the size of workers. The majority of the queen size is due to her reproductive organs in the abdomen.
Making a Good Queen for the Hive
When any colony is in need of a new queen, preparations get underway quickly. Perhaps the old queen had died or maybe the colony has been involved in swarming.
With most swarms the old queen leaves with the swarm to start a new home in a different location. Queen cells will be left behind so the mother colony will have what it needs to get a new queen mated and in place.
Queen Cells Vary in Quality
Queen cells are built by the female worker bees. These large peanut shaped cells hang down from the surface of the honeycomb.
Sometimes, you will see them along the bottom of a frame of comb. This is especially true for a colony planning to swarm.
It is not uncommon to see 6 or more queen cells on the bottom of frames in a crowded colony..
A colony producing swarm cells is usually very strong and healthy. The cells produced will be larger and have a mottled, carved appearance on the surface.
Inside each queen cell, a developing queen brood floats in a sea of brood food. She has everything she needs to emerge as a viable candidate to head the colony.
If the hive has a low population of workers or sick and unhealthy bees, the queen cells will be fewer.
With fewer worker bees to build cells and feed brood, the developing queen inside may be inferior. She may never reach the size or potential that a good diet could have provided.
In general, large nicely mottled queen cells are preferred over small smooth cells. The queen candidate in the large well-fed cells is more likely to grow to a good size and be productive.
Why the Queen Bee is a Larger Size
Why is the queen bee so much larger than the other bees in the hive? It sure seems that she would be a great worker capable of bringing in lots of nectar and pollen for the family.
Alas, our queen honey bee is not a forager. But, she has a very important function. She can do a job that no other bee can – she can lay fertilized eggs that develop into female bees.
Inside the long abdomen of the queen honey bee we find her reproductive organs. A pair of large ovaries hold all of the eggs that she will ever lay.
With an average queen laying over 1000 eggs a day during peak season, that’s a lot of eggs!
Also inside her abdomen is the “spermatheca”, this special organ that only the queen has-stores semen from her mating flights.
The queen only mates for a short time during her youth. The sperm collected during mating is stored inside her abdomen.
The wings of the honey bee queen only halfway down her back. Though she is capable of flying, flight is not her main objective.
Her lifelong task is egg laying. This she will continue until she dies, is killed or her performance lags. If this happens, the colony will begin plans to replace her.
Judging a Queen Honey Bee by Size
While it is true that in general a bigger queen is usually preferred. Size is not always an indicator of quality in the beehive.
In the Spring, when colonies are producing new queen bees, they may appear small and puny.
Don’t be disappointed yet. A newly emerged virgin queen is often small until she matures and takes her mating flight.
Once she is back in the hive, with mature ovaries producing eggs, the size of the queen’s abdomen can increase remarkably.
Many factors go into evaluating the quality of a queen. It starts with her genetic makeup (disease resistance etc.).
Then, we must consider her period of mating. She must be well-mated by several drone bees to become a good layer for the hive.
And lastly, the overall health and strength of the colony has a major effect on the production of any queen regardless of size.
Few things are more fullfilling to a beekeeper than seeing a large queen bee waddling across the comb.
She ignores our intrusion as she goes about her vital task of laying eggs for the colony.
The true heart of the hive, the role of the queen bee holds a place of honor in bee society.