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Everything you need to know about the Queen Bee

Everything you need to know about the Queen Bee

If the Queen Bee is removed from a hive, within fifteen minutes, all the bees will know about it and at that stage will frantically begin the task of creating a replacement.

This shows you how important the Honey Bee Queen is.

She is the heart and soul of the honey bee colony, and without her, the rest of the colony can’t survive. Having a good Queen in the colony results in a strong and productive hive.

A beekeeper will check on their Queen Bee every day and ask themselves this question - “How is my Queen today, is she healthy”?

There is only one Queen in any given hive, and she is of course, the largest bee. Her body is long and graceful, measuring around 2cm, which is twice the size of a worker bee. The Queen is the only female with fully developed ovaries. Her two primary functions are: to produce a chemical scent that assists with regulating the unity of the colony, and to lay eggs - lots of eggs!

The Queen Bee is an egg laying machine and will produce up to 1,500 – 2,000 eggs every day, which is about one egg every 20-30 seconds (that’s a very busy bee) and more than her own body weight in eggs.

If for any reason, the Queen doesn’t perform very well and doesn’t lay enough eggs, the colony may decide it’s time to replace her with a new Queen. This is called supersedure, and is carried out without human intervention, to ensure the long-term survival of the colony.

Beekeepers describe this as the replacement of an old Queen by her daughter!

How do Honey Bees become Queen Bees?

A Queen Bee is created for several different reasons, it could be due to the death of the previous Queen, or if the hive gets over-populated, and space is limited to lay the eggs. But one thing is certain: it is critical for a new Queen to be created quickly, as the existing Queen’s eggs must be less than three days old for the bees to do what is necessary to make a new Queen.

Surprisingly, the Queen Bee is produced from exactly the same eggs that produce the worker bees. The difference between a worker bee and the Queen Bee is that the larvae of ‘potential’ Queens are fed on a special substance called “royal jelly”.

Royal Jelly capsules

Royal Jelly is secreted from glands in the heads of the worker bees and fed to all the bee larvae, regardless of whether they are destined to become drones, (males), workers (sterile females) or Queens (fertile females).

However, if the worker bees decide it’s time for a new Queen, they choose several small larvae and feed them continuously, with copious amounts of royal jelly in specially constructed queen cells – this triggers the development of a Queen Bee. The other bees are taken off royal jelly after three days and the concentration falls directly on the Queen Bee to encourage her development.

In a colony of 50,000 bees, there will be only one Queen Bee, and around 300 drones, the rest will be female worker honey bees.

Bee on honeycomb

The indulged life of a Queen Bee

Only a week after the Queen emerges from her cell, she will take several flights to mate. This can be with up to 10 – 20 drones and the mating is carried out in flight. After the drones have mated, they die.

After the Queen Bee has mated, she will return to the colony to lay her eggs, where she will stay permanently and rarely leave. After mating, she has enough sperm inside her to continue to fertilize for the rest of her life! She stores the sperm in an organ called the “sperm pouch” – or spermatheca.

The other bees in the hive keep a very close watch on the Queen and like a servant, tend to her every need. She really is treated like royalty, as she moves around the hive, always surrounded by an entourage of bees.

Cartoon of Queen Bee

Yet strangely enough, the Queen Bee is not spoilt!

She needs to be fussed over as she is incapable of tending to her own needs. She can’t groom herself or feed herself. She can’t even take herself away from the hive to relieve herself. Her role is to move from cell to cell doing what she is there to do – lay eggs. So her tireless attendants take care of all her basic needs.

She is gentle, the Queen Bee, and although she has a stinger, it is very rare for a beekeeper to be stung by a Queen. She will normally reserve her stinger to kill any rival Queens that are either introduced into the hive, or emerge as a potential Queen.

How do bees communicate?

Along with the Queen Bee, pheromones are also produced by the drone and worker bees. This is one of the most fascinating things about bees as pheromones are their communication system.

The word ‘pheromones’ was made up in 1959 to describe this chemical substance and originates from the Greek words meaning “to carry” and “to execute”. The substance works as a messenger - to carry to other bees in the colony, and this causes a reaction in other honey bees - to excite.

These chemical substances are secreted by glands in the bees’ heads which they use to “communicate” with each other or cause changes in the physiology and behaviour of the bees.

The Queen emits her own pheromone - like a perfume - and it’s this scent that gives the worker bees clues about the condition of the Queen and the hive. This ‘perfume’ affects many aspects:

  • The social behaviour and maintenance of the bee hive
  • swarming
  • mating behaviour
  • the development of ovaries in the worker bees
  • the production of more Queen Bees
  • indicates to the bees whether a Queen has mated, or not
  • gives the worker bees a signal to gather around the Queen Bee and take care of her

If the Queen has a strong ‘perfume’ this could indicate a healthy Queen and therefore a healthy hive.

Longevity of the Queen Bee

The life of a Queen Bee is not much longer than two or more years in the colony. However, if she is healthy and continues to perform well, she may live as many as four or five.

But, if she fails to produces enough eggs, she will be replaced by a new Queen very quickly.

Bee flying towards white flower

It may sound severe to replace the Queen after such a short time and especially if she is still alive.

But if her egg laying capabilities slow down, this results in a smaller colony, and a smaller colony means an uneventful honey harvest for the bee keeper.

And so the cycle carries on… a new Queen emerges, the attendants pamper her with food and affection, whilst the old Queen is left to waste away.

Without the Queen there would be no hive, and without a hive there would be no honey. Luckily Bee Plus have both! And our honey isn't your average honey. It's high quality manuka honey, found only in New Zealand and independently tested for it's UMF grading and purity. Take a look at our range of products, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us by clicking here.

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