For those aspiring to become beekeepers, you probably already know for a fact that your worker bees are some of the most important bees when it comes to overall honey production. However, when it comes right down to it, the most important bee in the entire colony has to be the queen bee. But why is the queen bee so uber important and what does she do that makes her so important?
The purpose of the queen bee is to release pheromones that allow all of the other bees in the entire colony to work in unity. Moreover, her more important role in the colony is to lay eggs as it is the only bee in the colony that actually has developed ovaries. As such, this makes it the central figure in an entire hive.
Now that you have a glimpse of how important the queen bee is, you should have an idea as to why an entire colony’s daily life basically revolves around what the queen bee does. This means that it is crucial for you to make sure that the queen is in perfect health or to even know how to distinguish the queen from the rest of the colony. In that regard, let’s get to know more about the bee monarchy in greater detail.
What is so special about the queen bee?
Regardless of whether or not you know anything about beekeeping, you probably already knew as early as your childhood years that the queen bee is the most important bee in an entire colony. It might be hard to believe it but bees do have a ruling monarch, that is basically the main reason why the colony even exists. And this queen bee is the central figure of any colony, much like how monarchs are central figures of any kingdom.
We know that classic monarchs are ruling figures that basically hold almost all of the power of an entire nation or kingdom and that they are special because they have come from a long bloodline of royalty to the point that, in some kingdoms, they are almost revered as gods. But one could easily wonder whether or not bee society also sees the queen in that way. So, what makes the queen bee so special in the first place?
As mentioned, the queen bee is the central figure of any colony. But that is not only because she is regarded as an authoritative figure or even something as simple as a symbolic head of a colony. Instead, the queen bee is special and is revered by a colony because she has two purposes that only she can do. And let’s go over those two main purposes.
Just like any good monarch, the queen bee is pretty much responsible for unifying her entire colony and for them to know their roles or to do what they need to do for the survival of the entire hive. But, unlike monarchs that issue rules or orders when it comes to making their subjects act, the queen bee does it in a different way.
Instead, the queen bee releases a chemical scent or pheromones that end up permeating throughout the entire hive to make it the dominant “perfume” or scent that every bee in the colony knows. While there are similarities between how each queen bee smells, drones and workers tend to know how to differentiate their own queen bee’s unique scent, and that is exactly why they know which hive to go home to as they can smell their queen and associate the queen’s scent as the place they need to go home to.
In fact, the queen bee’s pheromones have such a powerful psychological effect on bees that they tend to act in unity to what the queen wants them to do. Of course, this is also the exact reason why, when the entire colony will form a swarm and follow the queen wherever she goes if ever there is a reason for the colony to leave the old hive behind and look for a new one. And the only bee in the hive capable of doing this is the queen bee herself.
Arguably the most important role that the queen bee does for the entire colony is egg-laying. While other species of animals or insects tend to have a lot of different females that can mate with males and produce offspring, the queen bee is the only bee in the entire colony capable of laying eggs because this is the only bee that has fully developed ovaries.
So, what happens here is that the queen bee is the one producing future bees that will end up populating the hive. As such, she is the sole bee responsible for expanding the population of the colony. This explains why the queen bee is so special as she is the only one capable of doing this among all of the female bees in the entire colony. While there are other female bees in the colony, it is only the queen bee that is capable of reproduction.
The fact that the queen bee releases pheromones that allow her to control all of the other bees in the entire hive plus the fact that she is the only bee capable of reproduction all point to how special and important she is to the overall unity and survival of her colony. Take the queen bee out of the equation and you will see how a colony will struggle for a while or even disband. This is also the reason why all of the other bees in the colony treat the queen bee like a royal celebrity, as they know how important she is to the survival of their entire population in the hive.
What does a queen bee do all day?
Different bees in a hive have their own different functions. Some of the most common bees that you see whenever you are near a bed of flowers are the worker bees, which are responsible for foraging for nectar and pollen that they will use as food or for honey production when they bring them back to the hive. So, if the worker bees basically do all of the work, what then does the queen bee do all day?
While different bees have their own different functions, the queen bee is actually only going to mate with drone bees and then lay eggs the entire day. In fact, a queen bee can lay more than 1,500 eggs a day at intervals of about 30 seconds. That means that the queen bee is basically an egg laying machine that spends an entire day simply laying eggs.
Of course, the queen bee is also quite pampered while she spends her entire day mating with drones and then laying eggs. What happens is that there are worker bees that tend to her every need so that the queen only has to mate and then lay eggs. The drones, which are male bees that are slightly bigger than worker bees, are the ones that the queen bee mates with on a day-to-day basis.
Imagine how pampered and spoiled the queen bee is as worker bees tend to her every need. She is capable of moving around the hive but, other than that, she really can’t do anything else. The queen can’t feed or even groom herself. And when she relieves herself, she even relies on the worker bees to clean up the mess for her. Basically, all she does all day is mate and lay eggs, which might not be the most exciting life, but it is the most important role in terms of making sure that the colony survives.
Do all bees mate with the queen?
Now that you know that all the queen does all day is to mate and then lay eggs, you might be wondering which bees get to mate with her. Do all of the bees in the colony actually mate with the queen?
As mentioned, the only male bees that are capable of mating with the queen are the drone bees. That’s because the drones are the only ones with mature reproductive capabilities, which the worker bees don’t have because all worker bees are actually female. As such, the queen bee spends an entire day mating with the drone bees, which are responsible for providing her with the sperm she needs to fertilize her eggs.
Similar to how a normal honey bee ends up dying when it stings, a drone bee will also end up dying as a result of mating with the queen. That’s because drones leave their penises behind after mating with the queen only for another drone to remove the penis and mate with the queen shortly after that. It’s a cycle of life and death that allows the colony to survive long after a drone dies as a result of mating with the queen bee.
What does a queen bee look like?
If you want to look for the queen bee in your hive for different reasons such as inspecting how healthy she is or when you want to replace the queen (which is a topic that we will be covering later on), there are certain aspects about the queen that will allow her to easily stand out in comparison to all of the other bees in the hive no matter how large the population may be (she is royalty after all!). In fact, most of the more experienced beekeepers can actually identify a queen by sight without having to move around all of the other bees just to spot the queen.
For those who are new to beekeeping or for those who are still trying to learn more about this endeavor, you can spot the queen by sight just by looking at her size. The queen bee will instantly stand out in terms of her overall size as she is a lot bigger and longer than the workers. Meanwhile, even though drones are bigger than worker bees, the queen bee still trumps the drone bees in terms of her overall size.
Most bees have abdomens that are about the length of their wings when their wings are tucked. However, the queen bee has a very long abdomen that it extends far beyond the tip of her tucked wings. This makes it look like the queen bee has very small wings, as she has a long abdomen that dwarfs the rest of her body.
Meanwhile, the queen bee’s back is also different from all of the other bees in the colony in the sense that it has a shiny and hairless back in comparison to the hairy and fuzzy backs that worker bees tend to have. Lastly, a queen bee has legs that are light in color, while worker bees have dark-colored legs that are easy to spot.
As it may sometimes be difficult for beekeepers to find the queen in a colony that has thousands of different bees, what some do is to mark the queen bee lightly with paint, which should be harmless to the bee but will easily allow beekeepers to identify her by sight. But if you have a smaller colony and you are already used to spotting the hive’s queen, it wouldn’t be necessary for you to mark the queen once you get the hang of it.
How are queen bees made?
So, what you should know about the queen bee is that this bee is not actually born to be a queen with royal blood (although all bees come from a queen bee’s bloodline). Instead, queen bees are actually just simple female worker bee larva that ended up getting chosen as the next queen bee to lead the entire hive.
In that regard, the ones that choose and create queen bees are the worker bees. What they do is that they choose a worker bee larva, which is then fed by a special type of food that the worker bees made. This food is often called “royal jelly” because of its jelly-like appearance and due to how it basically makes a bee royal when the larva is fed with it.
The reason why royal jelly ends up making a worker bee larva a queen bee is that it tends to have more nutrients and has all the nutritional needs a larva needs to grow up to become a fertile queen bee. What usually happens is that the larva is specially chosen to be enclosed in a cell in the hive. That is where it will get fed by the worker bees until it becomes a pupa, which is the final stage in its development before it becomes a full-grown fertile queen bee.
While the worker bees in a colony are indeed the ones responsible for choosing a new queen bee, beekeepers actually are capable of creating their own queen bees through the process that is called queen rearing. The reason why beekeepers follow such a practice is that they sometimes try to replace the old queen with a new one as soon as possible so that they can maximize the reproduction of bees in a colony as queens end up diminishing in terms of their reproductive capabilities as they get older.
Some beekeepers also practice queen rearing because they want to replace the queen of a colony that tends to be a bit more aggressive than others. By re-queening the hive with a queen that comes from a docile colony, there is a good chance that the colony will end up becoming less aggressive than it was in the past.
So, what happens in queen rearing is that most beekeepers make use of the Doolittle method. This method involves grafting larvae that are less than 24 hours in terms of their age into cells that are supposed to be reserved for queen bees. As we mentioned, workers naturally place the queen larva in a special cell.
After that, the queen cell cups are placed by the beekeeper in cell-building colonies, which are colonies that don’t have queens but are quite strong due to how they are fed well enough by the beekeeper. So, in the cell-building colonies, the worker bees will recognize the queen cell cups as cells reserved for queen bees. They will then begin to feed the larvae with royal jelly so that they will develop into queen bees.
It will take about 10 days for the entire process of feeding the queen larvae to be completed. From there, the beekeeper will transfer the queen cells into smaller mating colonies, where it will begin to mate about a week after it was transferred there. This basically is what happens in queen rearing as the beekeepers now have control over the creation of the queen bee, which will then be used to replace older queen bees in other colonies.
What is the lifespan of a queen bee?
The queen bee is actually the longest living bee in an entire colony as most bees will only have roughly a few days to live due to how short their natural lifespan tends to be. That said, most queen bees are capable of living for at least two years depending on different circumstances and in other different cases such as whether or not they die a natural death or are actually killed by the worker bees themselves.
Yes, worker bees may end up killing their own queen bee when they eventually detect that the queen bee has become too old and is steadily becoming incapable of reproduction and egg-laying. So, when that happens, worker bees may kill the old queen bee and then replace her with a new one. However, there will still be cases where the old queen bee is allowed to live alongside a new queen bee that was chosen by the workers. The workers will simply allow the old queen to die of old age.
Even though the queen bee has a lifespan of two years, some of the most experienced beekeepers don’t wait that long to replace or re-queen their colonies. That’s because queen bees tend to quickly deteriorate in terms of how well they lay their eggs. So, when queen bees deteriorate in terms of their egg-laying capabilities, the population of the entire colony is in danger. After all, the goal of a beekeeper is to maximize the bee population so that more honey gets to be produced.
As such, most of the more experienced beekeepers tend to replace the old queen with a new one after only about two seasons. This ensures that the hive will remain productive in terms of how fast the population grows because the new queen will quickly pick up where the old queen left off.
So, in your case, if you do end up noticing that a colony’s queen bee has slowed down in terms of its egg-laying capabilities such as when only a few eggs produced on a daily basis, it might be time for you to replace the old queen.
Of course, you yourself should have backup queens in place through the Doolittle method of queen rearing. This ensures that you will always have a queen ready to take over the old queen bee’s colony when you do replace the older queen with a younger and more fertile one.
What happens when a queen bee dies?
As mentioned, naturally, the queen bee has a lifespan of over two years when left unreplaced by the beekeeper. The queen bee will steadily age until she ends up dying as a result of her old age. And, as she ages, her egg-laying capabilities will also slow down as she won’t be able to maximize the eggs she lays on a daily basis.
So, when the queen bee finally dies, what happens is that the colony won’t end up dying alongside the queen. Instead, the worker bees are prompt enough to quickly select a new queen from a batch of worker bee larvae. After selecting larvae to rear as the new queen, the process of feeding the larva royal jelly ensues as a new queen will eventually emerge to rule the colony.
However, it isn’t uncommon for worker bees to select multiple larvae to feed royal jelly so that they will develop into queen bees. This is where it gets interesting because one of the larvae will eventually emerge from its pupa before the others get a chance to do so.
When a new queen bee emerges ahead of the others, she has a choice to rule over or to leave the hive and take a few worker bees and drone bees with her to start a new colony elsewhere. She will then leave it up to the next queen bees to decide what they want to do as well.
But if the first queen bee that emerged decides that she wants to stay and rule, which tends to be the more common decision among queen bees, she will actually kill off any rivals to her throne as the one and only queen of a colony. After all, there can only be one queen in a single colony.
So, what happens is that the queen will begin to search for the pupae that are yet to emerge as queen bees themselves. She will then use her stinger to kill the unhatched pupae so that she will no longer have any rivals to her throne.
There will be times when the worker bees will not wait for the old queen to die before choosing to select larvae that will become queen bees. This usually happens when the old queen has decided that the hive has become too small for the growing population and will begin to form a swarm in search of a new place to establish a new hive. So, from there, the leftover worker bees in the old hive will select a new queen out of the leftover larvae so that they can still continue in the old hive as a colony even without their old queen.
What happens if a queen bee stings you?
At this point, you should already know that only female bees have stingers. This includes the worker’s bees and, yes, the queen bee herself. And unlike worker bees, the queen bee has a stinger that isn’t barbed and will not get stuck and get left behind. So, in short, the queen bee will not die when she stings, unlike worker bees.
However, a queen bee will almost never sting a person or an animal because it would rather leave the stinging and the defense to the worker bees. Instead, the queen bee’s stinger has only one purpose, which is to kill all of her other rivals to the throne. As mentioned, the first queen bee to emerge in a colony will most likely kill all of the other queen bees that are yet to emerge so that she won’t have any rivals to the title of one and only queen. And because the queen bee needs to kill multiple rivals, she can sting multiple times.
If this all sounds like a series of “Games of Thrones” to you, it pretty much is 🙂