What Does the Queen Honey Bee Do?
The queen honey bee is the most well-known bee in the colony. Everyone who understands any bees knows that each colony must have one. But, what is the function of a queen bee? Is the role of the queen bee any more important that other bees in the hive? – what exactly does she do?
Ask anyone this question, ” If you could become any bee in the hive, which one would you choose?” Most people would chose to be the queen.
Now, if you are a man, you might rather be a King Bee – sorry guys – a King Honey Bee does not exist.
Why would you want to be queen? Because, she is thought to be the one “in charge”. We assume the queen bee “rules the roost”, telling all the worker bees what to do.
Hey, if you have to become a insect, you might as well be the boss – right? Ok, you can stop pretending to be a honey bee now.
Because, before you decide to cast your imaginary self in the role of a Queen Bee, let’s investigate a little further into the dynamics of life inside the bee hive.
How Do You Identify the Queen Bee?
The queen bee is the largest bee in the colony. She has a long tapered abdomen that enables her to place eggs deep into the bottom of honeycomb cells.
A queen can be any color. She may be lighter or darker than the other bees in the hive. A colony will rarely have more than 1 queen bee at a time.
However, there may be times when 2 queens reside in the colony for a while. This is usually a mother/daughter pair. Eventually the new daughter will take over.
What is the Job of a Queen Bee?
In reality, the duties of a queen honey bee are few. However, her tasks are vital to colony survival. None of the worker bees can take her place.
2 Important Tasks that Only the Queen Bee Can Do
- the queen bee can lay fertilized eggs
- she produces queen pheromones important to the hive
Each task performed by the current queen is important but both must take place for the colony to proper and grow.
Primary Function of a Queen Bee
The queen honey bee is the mother of all the bees in the colony. She lays eggs that develop into adult bees. This is her primary function throughout the life of the queen.
This is a very important duty because she is the only bee who can lay both unfertilized and fertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs develop into worker bees who will support the colony.
She move slowly across the surface of the comb. Her long abdomen contains ovaries with ripening eggs. She has a special structure that stores sperm (spermatheca) from her time of mating.
The queen bee checks the cells of the comb and measured the diameter with her front legs.
Upon finding a clean polished cell, she lowers her abdomen into the cell and releases one egg.
If the cell size is proper for a worker bee, the egg will be fertilized with semen before it leaves the queen’s body.
If the cell size is larger, intended for a drone, the queen lays an unfertilized egg-that will become a drone bee.
(How cool is that – she can decide if she wants to have a boy or girl !)
Queen’s Retinue Feed and Groom Her
Being regal takes up a lot of the queen’s time. Luckily for her, she has a retinue. The queens retinue is a special group of young adults that attend to her every need.
They will provide food in the form of royal jelly – a nutrient rich, pure food source. The few body wastes produced by the queen are removed by her retinue.
Beekeepers will often see a circle of bees that stand near the queen, usually facing her – these are her attendants.
Do Queen Bees Decide When to Build Up Colony Population?
Not entirely, she can not lay eggs until the workers build honeycomb and clean the cells.
She will not lay eggs in an unpolished cell. No honeycomb, no polished cells = no eggs laid. The workers are the ones who really make most colony decisions.
Queen Bee Pheromones
Another function of a queen bee is the production of pheromones. Pheromones are chemical messengers -much like external hormones.
They are used to communicate hive conditions. A good queen bee has strong pheromones that promote stability in the hive of this social insect.
QMP (Queen Mandibular Pheromone) is one of the most important pheromones produced by the queen.
It affects the colony in many ways and plays a role in swarming, inhibiting sexual development in worker bees, etc.
If egg laying or pheromone production wanes, the honey bee colony may begin preparations to replace their queen.
Can Queen Bees Fly?
Yes, a queen bee has the capacity to fly. However, she only leaves the hive on 2 occasions.
- the queen leaves the hive to mate when young
- she leaves with a swarm
Once when a young virgin, she leaves the hive to mate. Approximately 7 days after emergence, the queen bee will take several mating flights.
Reproduction in honey bees in not the same as that of mammals. Mating does not take place inside the bee colony.
Virgin queens mate in flight well away from the hive.Semen is stored inside her body. She returns to the hive and begins her role as mother of the colony.
The queen honey bee will never again leave the hive, unless the colony swarms. When the colony is preparing to swarm, workers reduce the amount of food given to the her.
This causes the queen to slim down. Hence, enabling her to fly when the colony swarms to a new home.
How Long Does A Queen Bee Live?
While a queen honey bee can live several years (2-5), she is not normally allowed to do so.
When she begins to lag in her 2 main roles: egg laying and pheromone production, the bees will make plans to replace her with a new queen.
This of course assumes that she is not killed by disease, robbing bees or a clumsy beekeeper before then. If the queen bee dies, she must be replaced as soon as possible.
Queens Are Replaced for Several Reason
Also, as with anyone who is the leader of an organization she is often blamed when things go wrong.
After a period of time, the queen will not be able to lay enough fertile eggs to meet the colony demands. Poor egg production is often accompanied by failing pheromone production.
Once the workers become dissatisfied with the queen, her time is limited. The colony will produce queen cell and make a new queen.
Also, if a beekeeper wants to introduce new genetics into a colony or replace an aging queen, the old queen make be removed from the hive and replaced with another.
What Happens to the Queen Bee Without Workers?
Unfortunately, situations occur where a queen is left with few or no worker bees. In this situation, the colony is doomed.
The queen bee does nothing but lay eggs. She does not forage for food or water and she can not take care of any brood.
She gives her whole life in service to the colony. The role of the queen bee can not be accomplished by another other bee.