A few fun facts about my favourite honey bee, the Queen 👑
Fact 1 The Queen bee comes from any fertilized egg. The egg laid that becomes a honey bee Queen is not determined before it’s laid, but after it is hatched into a larvae. The worker bees feed the young larvae a special food produced from their cheeks containing royal jelly amongst many other properties. This special diet, the young larvae eats in the first few days of its life, is what determines which larvae becomes a honey bee Queen. The quantity and quality of food fed to the young larvae is what leads me, as a queen breeder, to which cells will develop into a strong healthy Queen. The normal hatching cycle of a worker bee is 21 days and drones take 24. Interestingly enough, even though the Queen is the biggest bee in the hive, it only takes her 16 days to mature into adulthood.
Fact 2 The honey bee Queen is the largest bee in the colony. She has a long narrow thorax allowing her to reach the bottom of the comb to lay an egg. Being the longest bee in the hive, she can often be identified by a circle of worker bees surrounding her, attending to her every need. A healthy Queen can be identified by a plump thorax. It’s important to note that her size can range based on her age, fertilization, or if a hive is preparing to swarm. When a young Queen is hatched, she is small and slender because she hasn’t had the chance for her spermatheca to be filled during fertilization. As a Queen ages, she thins out when her spermatheca is slowly depleted of eggs. Always keep in mind if you see a skinny Queen in a heavy bee filled hive, they may be preparing to swarm. When a colony is preparing to swarm they instinctively feed her less. A smaller Queen can fly a lot easier and further than a plump overfed Queen!
Fact 3 A mated honey bee Queen will spend the majority of its life in the hive. Living from 2-5 years, this could make anyone a little stir crazy! The only time a honey bee Queen leaves a hive is to mate and if the colony decides to swarm. When a virgin Queen becomes sexually mature, within the first few days of her life, she will go on a “mating flight”. This flight can take her miles away from her colony. The distance is to protect her from in-breeding because the majority of the bees in the colony are her brothers and sisters. The Queen may go on multiple mating flights over the course of a week until she feels her spermatheca is adequately filled. She will only do this once in her lifetime and will continue to lay eggs until she runs out. During this “mating flight” the honey bee Queen is at high risk for death or disorientation and may never return to her home colony. As a Queen breeder, I try to colour code and disperse my breeding hives to increase the chances she will find her way home. This is the most stressful time for me and the honey bees left behind in the hive. When a colony feels there is not enough room in their current hive they will prepare to swarm. Swarming is where between ½ to ¾ of the bees in a colony, along with the current Queen, leave the hive in search of a new place to call home. The remaining bees will hatch a new Queen from a swarm cell left behind and the mating process will begin all over again for this colony.
Fact 4 Honey bee Queens smell funny. Each Queen emits a specialized pheromone constantly so her colony knows she is still alive and healthy. This pheromone is passed through the entire hive and how the bees know where they live and if there is an intruder. As a Queen ages and produces less eggs, she also produces less pheromones. This signals to the colony that their Queen is needing to be replaced. A honey bee Queen can live up to 5 years but is often killed and replaced by her colony in 1-3 years. The biggest killer of honey bee Queens is the beekeeper(by accident of course!) or the bees themselves. Very rarely does a Queen die of old age. The Queen is the most protected bee in a colony, until she becomes sick, injured, or isn’t producing enough eggs. The Queen’s pheromone is why beekeepers have to slowly release new Queens into a hive. If the hive wasn’t given then opportunity to adjust to the pheromone of a new Queen, from within her cage, they would see her as an intruder and kill her. This can take from 3-5 days and isn’t always guaranteed a hive will accept a new queen. There are a few tips and techniques we have but I’ll save that for another post.
Fact 5 A honey bee Queen doesn’t die if she stings you. Worker honey bees have a barbed stinger that pulls out of their body and releases its venom when they sting, thus killing them. A honey bee Queen has a smooth stinger allowing her to sting multiple times without dying. The Queen will rarely target a human to sting, unless you are a Queen Breeder. It’s the worker bees job to protect the hive and the Queen. She will use her stinger to kill off rival Queens. When a Queen is newly hatched, she is rarely the only Queen being raised by the colony. The first thing she does is seek out other Queens or Queen cells to tear them out and sting them to death.
That’s all for now. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment or message me!
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Happy beekeeping! 🐝