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Facts about Queen Bee

The term queen bee is typically used to refer to an adult, mated female (gyne) that lives in a honey bee colony or hive; she is usually the mother of most, if not all, of the bees in the beehive. Queens are developed from larvae selected by worker bees and specially fed to become sexually mature. There is normally only one adult, mated queen in a hive, in which case the bees will usually follow and fiercely protect her. The term "queen bee" can be more generally applied to any dominant reproductive female in a colony of a eusocial bee species other than honey bees. A single nest may have multiple queens or even dwarf queens, ready to replace a dominant queen in case of a sudden death.

Development

During the warm parts of the years, female "worker" bees leave the hive every day to collect nectar and pollen. While male bees serve zero architectural or pollinating purposes, their primary function (if they are healthy enough) is to mate with a queen bee. Any fertilized egg has the potential to become a queen but through diet in the larval stage. Queens are fed only royal jelly, a protein-rich secretion from glands on the heads of young workers. Worker larva is fed bee bread which is a mixture of nectar and pollen. All bee larvae are fed some royal jelly for the first few days after hatching but only queen larvae are fed the jelly exclusively. As a result of the difference in diet, the queen will develop into a sexually mature female, unlike the worker bees.

Queens are raised in specially constructed queen cells. The fully constructed queen cells have a peanut-like shape and texture. Queen cells start as queen cups, larger than the cells of normal brood comb and are oriented vertically instead of horizontally. Worker bees will only further build up the queen cup once the queen has laid an egg in a queen cup. Swarm cells hang from the bottom of a frame while supersedure queens or emergency queens are generally raised in cells built out from the face of a frame.

As the young queen larva pupates with her head down, the workers cap the queen cell with beeswax. When ready to emerge, the virgin queen will chew a circular cut around the cap of her cell. Often the cap swings open when most of the cut is made, to appear like a hinged lid. During swarming season, the old queen is likely to leave with the prime swarm before the first virgin queen emerges from a queen cell.

Virgin Queen Bee

A virgin queen is a queen bee that has not mated with a drone. Virgins are intermediate in size between workers and mated, laying queens, and are much more active than the latter. They are hard to spot while inspecting a frame, because they run across the comb, climbing over worker bees if necessary, and may even take flight if sufficiently disturbed. Virgin queens can often be found clinging to the walls or corners of a hive during inspections.

Virgin queens appear to have little queen pheromone and often do not appear to be recognized as queens by the workers. A virgin queen in her first few hours after emergence can be placed into the entrance of any queen hive or nuc and acceptance are usually very good, whereas a mated queen is usually recognized as a stranger and runs a high risk of being killed by the older workers.

Reproduction Cycle

The surviving virgin queen will fly out on a sunny, warm day to a "drone congregation area" where she will mate with 12–15 drones. If the weather holds, she may return to the drone congregation area for several days until she is fully mated. Mating occurs in flight. The young queen stores up to 6 million sperm from multiple drones in her sperm theca. She will selectively release sperm for the remaining 2–7 years of her life.

Supersedure

As the queen ages, her pheromone output diminishes. A queen bee that becomes old, or is diseased or failing, is replaced by the workers in a procedure known as "supersedure".

Supersedure may be forced by a beekeeper, for example by clipping off one of the queen's middle or posterior legs. This makes her unable to properly place her eggs at the bottom of the brood cell; the workers detect this and then rear replacement queens. When a new queen becomes available, the workers kill the reigning queen by "balling" her, clustering tightly around her. Death through balling is accomplished by surrounding the queen bee and raising her body temperature, causing her to overheat and die. Balling is often a problem for beekeepers attempting to introduce a replacement queen.

If a queen suddenly dies, the workers will attempt to create an "emergency queen" by selecting several brood cells where a larva has just emerged which are then flooded with royal jelly. The worker bees then build larger queen cells over the normal-sized worker cells which protrude vertically from the face of the brood comb.

Queen Rearing

Queen rearing is the process by which beekeepers raise queen bees from young fertilized worker bee larvae. The beekeeper grafts larvae, which are 24 hours or less of age, into a bar of queen cell cups. The queen cell cups are placed inside of a cell-building colony. A cell-building colony is a strong, well-fed, queenless colony that feeds the larva royal jelly and develops the larvae into queen bees.

After approximately 10 days, the queen cells are transferred from the cell building colony to small mating nuclei colonies, which are placed inside of mating yards. The queen cells hatch inside of the mating nuclei. After approximately 7–10 days, the virgin queens take their mating flights, mate with 10–20 drone bees, and return to their mating nuclei as mated queen bees.

Queen rearing can be practiced on a small scale by hobbyists or sideline beekeepers raising a small number of queens for their use or can be practiced on a larger, commercial-scale by companies that produce queen bees for sale to the public.

Daily Life

Although the name might imply it, a queen bee does not directly control the hive. Her sole function is to serve as the reproducer. A well-mated and well-fed queen of quality stock can lay about 1,500 eggs per day during the spring build-up—more than her body weight in eggs every day. She is continuously surrounded by worker bees who meet her every need, giving her food and disposing of her waste. The attendant workers also collect and then distribute queen mandibular pheromone, a pheromone that inhibits the workers from starting queen cells. The queen bee can control the sex of the eggs she lays. The queen lays a fertilized (female) or unfertilized (male) egg according to the width of the cell. Drones are raised in cells that are significantly larger than the cells used for workers. The queen fertilizes the egg by selectively releasing sperm from her spermatheca as the egg passes through her oviduct.

What do Queen Cells mean?

There are special larger cells for the developing queen. But its build for different reasons; upon finding queen cells inside a beehive, the beekeeper can be sure of one thing. The bees are trying to tell a story about something happening inside the hive. The 3 types of honey bee queen cells are Swarm cells, Supersedure Cells, and Emergency Cells. Each kind of queen cell is constructed for a different reason. A wise beekeeper learns to discern the difference between them.

How Honey Bees Make a New Queen Bee?

A honey bee colony has a miraculous capacity to produce a new queen bee when one is needed. Any hive with ample food, worker bees, and freshly fertilized eggs has the material needed to make a queen. This is the beginning of the queen bee life cycle. When a queen is needed, nurse bees select a very young female larva (generally less than 2 days old). These larvae are fed a special diet to allow the larva to develop into a sexually reproductive female: the queen bee. The time for a queen bee to develop from egg to adult is 16 days on average.

What do Queen Cells Look Like?

Because the queen bee is larger (longer) than workers, cells have to be bigger. She cannot develop in a normal, small worker cell. It is common for the bees to produce more than 1 queen larva. These specially designed “queen cells” resemble peanuts on the frame of the comb. Each “type” of queen cell looks the same and serves the same purpose – producing a new queen. Drone cells are sometimes confused for queen cells by new beekeepers. But queen cells are much larger and hang down from the comb.

Where is Queen Cells Located?

The number of queen cells present and their location tell the story of the hive’s status. They can be present anywhere in the brood nest area. Some cells are found primarily on the bottom of frames and others will be on the face of the comb.

Swarm Cells

A strong honey bee colony is likely to produce swarm cells in the Spring. It can happen at any time during the warm season. Swarming is a natural occurrence for honey bees. It is a reproduction on the colony level. When colony swarms, a queen and about half the population of bees leave. They will travel to a new location that has been selected by scout bees. Here, a new hive will be established. Before the swarm leaves, numerous queen cells are constructed. These are called swarm cells because their construction is part of swarm preparations. Once the developing queen larva is mature and ready to emerge, the swarm leaves. In the next day or so, a new queen will emerge from one of the cells. She kills the other queens still trapped inside and becomes the leader of the colony. Swarm cells are most commonly seen along the bottom of frames. A colony can swarm with only a few queen cells but that is not the norm. This is the type of queen cell that requires fast attention. If you see, a bunch of queen cells on the bottoms of frames in a strong colony, take action. This colony should be split into 2 hives or other methods employed to stop the swarm impulse.

Supersedure Cells

Another type of queen cell is called a supersedure cell. These queen cells are produced when the colony needs to replace their current queen. When a queen bee shows declining egg-laying, the colony will make plans to replace her. This may seem cruel but a honey bee colony must have a continual supply of new workers during the warm season. These bees only live about 6 weeks during summer. Maintaining a strong workforce is the colony’s only chance of survival. Supersedure cells can be anywhere in the brood nest area. But, you will most often find them on the face of the comb – not the bottom.

Emergency Cells

Emergency queen cells, however, are different. They are exactly that – an emergency. Sometimes, a queen is lost suddenly. Perhaps, she dies from disease or is killed. Or maybe a beekeeper accidentally squeezes her between frames. When the queen is lost suddenly, emergency cells are constructed anywhere young larva are available. The construction of one queen cell means a lack of suitable age larva. Also, the colony may have to choose larva that is older than 2 days. The danger is that less desirable larva may not produce the best queens.

Queen Cups are Not Queen Cells – Yet

Many colonies keep a few “queen cups” constructed on the comb. These small acorn-sized cells are prepared in advance of actual queen cell construction. Their presence is no reason for concern until an egg or larva is present. Once that happens, the worker bees are serious about producing queens. The beekeeper must either let nature take its course or intervene. If you allow the colony to do what nature intends, just be sure to recheck later to ensure successful requeening.

The Queen Bee – Is She Really in Charge?

We know that honey bees live together in a colony and share the workload. The honey bee colony over-winters as a family inside their beehive. Honey bees make honey from collected plant nectar. They also collect pollen and store it for winter. Yet, the bee colony still has some secrets.

What Does a Queen Bee Look Like?

A queen honey bee has a long abdomen because of her role as mother of the colony. Her ovaries will produce a lifetime’s quantity of eggs. The length also allows her to cement an egg into the bottom of a honeycomb cell. To manage a honey bee colony successfully, a beekeeper will often need to locate her drones. This is especially difficult on a frame with hundreds of bees moving around. Drones are wider and noticeably different than regular workers, but they cannot compare in length to a mature queen bee. The number of drones present vary during the warm season. But, all drones and no workers is a sign of problems with your queen.

Looking for a Virgin Queen Bee

It is very easy to overlook a young virgin queen in a crowded colony. A new queen can look very similar in size to some of the workers. As she matures and progresses into her egg-laying role, she will plump up as beekeepers should be alarmed if she remains small. Another situation involving queen size is the time of swarming. Worker bees feed the queen honey bee. When the colony is preparing to swarm, the queen is fed less than normal.

Is the Queen Bee Genetically Different?

The queen bee will have different genetic material than another and different characteristics too. One may produce offspring that are good honey producers. This is why beekeepers will requeen a hive that has undesirable traits. However, the queen honey bee develops from a fertilized egg. Any fertilized egg laid by a queen has the potential to become a queen bee. The queen bee is not the only female in the hive. She has thousands of sisters and then daughters to keep her company.

How Long Does It take for a Queen Bee to be born?

Honey bees are insects that develop through several stages. The four stages are egg, larva, pupa, and adult. It only takes 16 days for the most vital bee in the hive to reach adulthood.

How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?

While the queen bee is capable of living several years, this rarely happens. Two years is most common and some queen bees only last 1 season. Once the aging queen declines in egg production or pheromone levels, the colony will replace her.

What Does the Queen Bee Do?

Inside the colony, workers feed the queen. She does not even groom or clean herself. She relies on her “retinue” of workers for her every need.

The Queen Decides Where to Lay Eggs Right?

Yes, the queen bee moves across the honeycomb surface checking empty cells. She measures them with her antenna and front legs. This is to determine whether it is a worker-sized cell or a drone-sized cell. An unfertilized egg is laid in a drone-sized cell – those in the worker cell are fertilized inside the queen’s body. But, the queen bee will not lay in a cell that the worker bees have not cleaned and polished. If the colony needs drones, the workers prepare drone-sized cells.

Do Queen Bees Have Stingers?

Yes, they do have stingers. But, queen bees are not aggressive –no participation in defending colony.

How is the Queen Bee Chosen?

When a colony needs a new queen, they will raise several young queens at the same time. The first virgin queen to emerge from her cell decides who is chosen as queen. She searches out the other queen cells to destroy them. If more than one virgin queen emerges at the same time, a true queen bee fight will ensue. The queen bee’s function in the hive is highly specialized. Her stinger is not barbed, it is smooth. She uses her stinger to kill rival virgin queens.

Queen Bee Mate Outside the Hive?

Queen honeybees do not mate inside the hive. She takes flight on a warm, sunny afternoon after emerging from her queen cell to mate of course! By mating well away from her colony, she is more likely to mate with unrelated drones and promote genetic diversity.

Do Queens Leave the Hive?

Queen bees just don’t get out a lot. Workers take care of her every need. The queen's waste after consuming is Royal jelly is cleaned by her daughters. There are only 2 occasions for the queen bee to leave the hive

  • Virgin queen leaves the hive to mate
  • Queen leaves with a swarm

How to Spot the Queen Bee?

Chances are that you will never see a queen honey bee unless you are a beekeeper. The vast majority of her life is spent inside the beehive. For new beekeepers, knowing how to find the queen takes time. And, you won’t always be able to locate her. I also like to mark my queens, this makes finding and replacing a queen easier.

What is the Queen Bee Status?

A colony without a productive queen is a colony in trouble. The bees will know it because of the lack of queen pheromones and fewer eggs being laid. The workers may attempt to make a new queen for the hive. If the beekeeper sees queen cells being constructed in a colony that is not crowded, queen problems must be considered. By contrast, a bee colony with a healthy productive queen will have a brood of all stages and a general sense of well-being.

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