There is no doubt that the most important member of bee society is the queen of the entire colony. That’s because she is responsible for uniting the entire colony and is the only bee capable of laying eggs that will help increase the colony’s population. It is needless to say that a bee colony should have a queen for it to survive on a long-term basis. But how long will a hive survive without its queen?
A colony without a queen will only last for around a couple of months because they rely on the queen to keep their numbers up as she lays eggs. Meanwhile, a typical honey bee should be able to maintain its usual and regular daily activities even without the queen but this will last for only about a month.
The queen is the most important part of a bee colony as she makes sure that the hive is populated with enough bees that can help keep the entire colony running. That is why it is no wonder why bees are seemingly robots that will follow their queen around and do whatever needs to be done to keep her healthy and alive. So, let’s get to know more about the queen and how long a hive can survive without her.
What happens if a bee colony has no queen?
Bees are indeed fascinating creatures because of how efficient they are as workers and how they are able to move and work in a seemingly unified and robot-like manner that allows them to work well off of one another for the betterment of the entire colony. This can be attributed to how bee society is divided into three main clusters: the queen, the drones, and the workers. Among all of the bees that belong to bee society, there is no one more important to the colony than the queen bee herself.
There are plenty of reasons why the queen bee is as important as she is. The first thing you need to know about the queen is that she is responsible for uniting the hive and allowing all of the drones and the workers to do her bidding and to work for one single goal, which is for the survival of the entire colony.
Then, the second and arguably most important role that the queen has is that she is the one responsible for laying eggs. The queen bee is the only female bee with a mature reproductive system that will allow her to mate with drones and lay up to more than 1,500 eggs in a single day. These eggs, needless to say, will hatch to become the larvae, who would soon become the future of the entire colony. Therefore, the queen bee is the only bee that can produce new bees in a colony and replenish the hive’s population.
Now that you know that the colony is basically dependent on the queen’s survival and her importance to the entire hive’s society, what would happen if the queen would suddenly die or disappear without a trace? What happens to a colony if it doesn’t have a queen that could help them work in unison and increase its population?
So, the first thing that would happen if a bee doesn’t have a queen is that the rest of the bees would soon panic and follow an erratic type of behavior that seems to be quite different from the usual more unified behavior that the bees typically have. There will be cases when the bees would appear to act aggressively when there is no queen. It is said by experts that it would take about 15 minutes for the bees to realize that their queen could be dead or missing.
During those 15 minutes or so, the bees can still function normally even though they don’t have a queen. But why is that? How can bees that are so dependent on their queen for survival end up functioning like there was nothing wrong in the hive even though there is no queen?
We have to go back to the queen’s pheromones to answer that question. That’s because, when the queen releases her pheromones, which is what allows her to unite the hive and basically put all of the bees under her control, she rubs these pheromones onto other worker bees. These worker bees will begin to pass on this scent to other bees as they begin to work in unison due to the scent that their queen gives off.
So, even if the queen is dead or missing, these pheromones can still persist a while after her death. In that case, the bees will still act unified and work like it’s a normal day because they are still basically under the queen’s spell as long as her scent persists.
But, then again, this scent can eventually diminish over time as there is no longer any queen bee that could produce and release this scent. When the scent has fully diminished, that is when the rest of the bees in the colony will begin to realize the fact and the possibility that the queen is dead or missing.
As soon as the rest of the bees have realized that the queen is either dead or missing, what the worker bees will do is to select the next queen bee from a group of larvae. They will feed these larvae with what we call royal jelly, which is a honey-like substance that is far more nutritious and has all of the necessary nutrients that could help raise a larva into a fertile queen.
From there, it would take approximately 16 days or a little over two weeks for the entire colony to raise a new queen from the larvae that they had and as long as the larvae present upon the queen’s death are healthy. After that, it might take a few weeks for the new queen to fully mature into an egg-laying machine that the colony could serve.
So, as you can see, what happens when a bee colony is without a queen is that they will soon begin to try to replace the old queen by raising a new queen from the remaining larvae in the hive. This will allow the colony to survive as bees’ existence is basically in the hands of the egg-laying queen bee.
But, then again, this is an assumption that the colony still has eggs that are yet to hatch or young and healthy larvae that can be nominated and raised as the new queen bee. This should be the case in most hives but that is not always the case because there will be instances where the workers do indeed fail to raise a new queen from the existing larvae and eggs or when there aren’t even any larvae or eggs that are healthy enough to be raised as queens.
Can bees survive without their queen?
We have established how a bee colony is wired to look for a new queen from their remaining larvae or eggs shortly after they have realized that the old queen was dead or missing. As such, the bees won’t be without a queen for a very long time as the colony might have a new queen in about a month or so following the death or disappearance of their old queen.
However, we did say that there will only be a new queen if the worker bees were successful at raising a new one from the remaining larvae or eggs after the old queen died or went missing. In some cases, they might not even be able to try to raise a new queen at all because there weren’t any larvae or eggs left before the queen died or went missing. As such, this will leave the bees queen-less for an extended period of time or probably even forever.
So, what happens when bees are essentially left without a queen and have no means to elect or raise a new queen? Can they even survive without a queen? After all, we did establish that the queen is the unifying factor and the only egg-laying bee that can give birth to new workers and drones.
Well, if a bee colony doesn’t have a queen, the bees will and can technically still survive because they don’t really rely on the queen for their individual survival since bees are capable of taking care of themselves by eating and relying on their basic survival instincts.
That said, things would proceed as normal for the worker bees as they will continue to forage for food to produce honey as much as they can. They might not work as efficiently and as uniformly as they did when the queen was around, but these bees will still work and proceed with their daily lives.
In some cases, these workers may even try to lay eggs as the queen’s pheromones are no longer there and the bees are now capable of developing their own ovaries. However, because worker bees cannot mate with the drones, they can only produce eggs that will turn out to be drones. In short, these worker bees cannot produce worker bees themselves, as the bloodline will essentially end with them if there is no queen to lay the eggs.
Without a queen, most worker bees can survive for about a month or so given the fact that bees don’t have long lifespans. And when they die, that’s it. There is no longer any worker bee that will take their place because there is no longer any queen that could produce these workers.
So, while we did say that bees will and can survive even without a queen, the same cannot be said of the hive or the colony. Without a queen, these bees will eventually die due to natural causes such as age or diseases. And when the existing bees begin to die out without a queen around to replenish the population, the entire colony will die out as well and will leave an empty beehive with nothing but bee corpses.
In short, the individual bees can survive for about a month or so without a queen. And when they do end up dying, the entire colony will steadily die out as well because there is no queen to keep the bloodline running. So, while the individual bees can survive without the queen, the entire colony won’t be able to do so for a long time as the hive population will soon perish if they cannot have a new queen soon.
How long can a queen-less hive survive?
Now that you essentially know that a hive cannot survive on a long-term basis without a queen, you might be wondering how long it can actually survive on its own. In this case, we are looking at it on a sustainable basis as the queen herself is what actually sustains the population of the entire colony.
So, going back, worker bees can end up living for about four weeks even without a queen. They may even lay their own eggs, which will only result in drones. However, because drones are only there to mate with the queen are essentially useless without a queen because they cannot work or forage, they are essentially going to exist only to eat and eventually die.
Because drones are useless and worker bees are going to eventually drop in numbers in about four or so weeks, the food supply will also eventually drop as the worker bees themselves are dropping dead. In that case, you can expect the entire colony to end up perishing in about two months depending on how many worker bees were still available when the queen died and on the remaining food supply left in the hive.
There might also be cases where the hive will only be populated with drones that are essentially useless. This can happen when the older worker bees have already died and there were no new ones that took their place. So, in such a case, the drones will also eventually die when the food supply begins to run short.
The point here is that, on a sustainable level, there is no way a bee colony can survive without a queen as the queen herself is what replenishes the number of worker bees that are productive enough to tend to the needs of the queen and work in the colony by foraging for food, producing honey, and tending the young. Without the queen, there will be no worker bees. And without the worker bees, the colony is destined for doom.
How can you tell if your hive doesn’t have a queen?
We all know how important the queen bee is and how a hive won’t be able to survive without her laying eggs to replenish the bee population in the colony. As such, you know how important it is for you to make sure that your hive does indeed have a queen. But how will you even know if the queen is still alive? Or, better yet, how can you tell if your hive doesn’t have a queen?
Probably the best indication of a queen-less hive is when you have noticed that the bee population in a certain colony has begun dropping. However, this means that it has been a while since the queen died or disappeared and your worker bees failed to actually select or raise a new queen.
You don’t want to wait for a few weeks for that to happen as the bee population might have already dropped considerably since then. And when that happens, it will take a very long time for the hive to once again repopulate and become productive enough to provide you with the honey you need for sustainability.
As such, it is important for you to know how to detect as early as possible whether or not the hive still has a queen. After all, you don’t want to wait for the colony’s population to be at its lowest for you to know whether or not there is still a queen. By the time you try to introduce a new queen, it might already be too late for the hive to survive. This only highlights how important it is for you to know if the hive still has a queen.
Here are some signs for you to watch out for if you want to know whether or not the hive no longer has a queen:
Lack of larvae and eggs
So, the first sign that the colony doesn’t have a queen is when there are no larvae or eggs present. That’s because the queen is the only one capable of laying eggs that can hatch to become worker bee larvae. When the queen is absent, you will immediately notice it when there are no eggs. After all, a queen bee can lay up to 1,500 eggs in a single day.
You can easily check or inspect the hive for the presence of larvae or eggs if you try to remove the cells where the worker bees tend to raise larvae or keep eggs. This can usually be found in honeycomb frames that the worker bees reserved for raising brood. If there are no larvae or eggs present in the frames when you remove them, then that could be a sign that there is no queen in the colony.
Increase in honey and pollen
This might sound odd but a hive that no longer has a queen actually becomes more productive in terms of its honey production and pollen collection. The reason for such is actually quite simple as the division of labor has now been restricted to foraging and honey production. That’s because there are no longer any larvae or eggs that the worker bees need to take care of when the queen is not around. So, in short, the worker bees previously tasked with taking care of the brood and for tending to the needs of the queen are now going to forage and produce honey.
However, this should be something that you will notice on a short-term basis simply because the worker bees will eventually end up dying. So, if you noticed in a short time period that your honey and pollen increased, that could be a sign of more worker bees foraging and producing honey as a result of no longer having a queen to serve and eggs to take care of.
Presence of queen cells
When a queen has died, the first thing that the worker bees will do is to attempt to replace her with a new queen. In that sense, what they will do is to create cells that are specifically designed for taking care of the queen larvae. These cells are called queen cells. And if these queen cells are present, it could be a sign that the queen has died or that the colony no longer has a queen.
However, this should also be paired with the lack of larvae or eggs. That’s because some worker bees will still create queen cells and raise queen larvae even if the present queen is still alive.
So, other than those signs that we have mentioned, there are also other factors that can very well lead to the conclusion that the colony has lost its queen. One such sign is when the bees seem to act in an erratic manner and that they have a more aggressive temperament. You can see this when they make a high-pitched noise when you attempt to open the hive as the bees are no longer buzzing in unison and are behaving in a pattern that is far from how they usually behave. The reason for this can be attributed to how the queen’s pheromones are no longer keeping them in check.
Will a queen-less hive make a new queen?
The queen, as mentioned, is the most important member of bee society as the rest of the colony basically relies on her for the survival of the entire hive on a long-term basis. That’s why it is needless to say that, when a queen ends up dying, the colony will try to make a new queen to replace her.
So, as mentioned, the process of making a new queen will not start until the worker bees have realized that the old queen was dead or has gone missing. What they will do here is to nominate a new queen from the remaining larvae they have. The workers will almost always nominate multiple larvae to increase the chances of success.
After that, they will feed the larvae with royal jelly, which is a type of bee food that is reserved for queen nominees. Royal jelly is more nutritious and has all of the necessary nutritional needs that a larva needs to become a fertile queen. The larvae are usually housed in special cells called the queen cells.
The larvae will eventually mature and emerge into queen bees from these queen cells. However, the first queen bee that will emerge will be crowned as the one and only queen bee of the hive. What she will do is that she will use her stinger to kill off any of the queen bees that are yet to emerge, so that her claim to the throne will be unchallenged.
Why do bees kill their queen?
While worker bees do nominate and raise new queens when they are already without a queen, there are also instances where they will attempt to raise a new queen even while their old queen is still alive and breathing. This usually happens when they detect that the old queen is no longer as fertile and as she was.
In such cases, worker bees will attempt to raise a new queen, which will eventually emerge to take over the hive. From there, the usual scenario is for them to kill the old queen, to make way for the new queen to take over her throne. It sounds like it’s treasonous, but this is all for the survival of the hive.
However, there are also some scenarios where the old queen will live off the rest of her life while the new queen is already sitting on the proverbial bee throne. However, such a case seems to be rare, as it is more common for the bees to kill their queen when there is already a new queen.
Introducing a new queen bee to a queen-less hive
Finally, if you have a hive that no longer has a queen and has failed to raise a new queen, the one thing you should do is to introduce a new queen bee to the hive so that she will serve as the new matriarch of that colony. Here are the things you need to do when introducing a new queen to a queen-less hive:
- Remove one of the frames that you placed in the brood box. The goal here is to pick the frame with as few larvae or eggs as possible because of how you are going to take it out for more than a week.
- Remove all of the bees from the bee frame and put it aside for an entire week.
- Create a space in the center of the brood box of the frame you removed from the hive. This is where you will place the queen cage, which should house a queen that was raised by a different colony.
- Remove the cork from the queen cage and then return the frame to the hive. Removing the cork will allow the attendant bees in the hive to release the queen from the queen cage and then serve her as their new queen.
- Observe the hive for about a week or so to determine whether or not the queen has begun laying eggs. If she did, you have successfully re-queened a queen-less hive.