At the extension office I get calls about bees pretty regularly. I have always enjoyed working with bees and never turn down an opportunity to talk to someone about bees. A lot of people are just curious about bees in general and how they work. One topic in particular peaks a lot of people’s interest, the life and times of the queen bee. This is understandable since they are so important to the hive. So today I thought I would answer a few burning questions I get often about the queen bee.
Every spring, when the flowers start to bloom and the temperature starts to warm up, new life begins for bees. Bees begin collecting pollen and nectar, which triggers the queen to start laying eggs after her winter dormancy. When the hive begins to become over populated, the current queen will take half the bees with her and form a swarm. Leaving behind half the resources, fresh eggs and half the bee population, allows the hive to create a new queen. Several eggs will be chosen to bee queens. These eggs will be placed in deep cells called “queen cells”. These extra long cells within the hive compensate for the new queen’s size. The designated larvae will be fed a special food called “royal jelly” and with these nutrients, become a queen.
Once these queens hatch, they will be put in an awkward situation. Because there can only be one queen, one of two things must happen: a duel or a deal. The queens usually choose to fight and kill each other, leaving only one alive. The first queen to hatch typically stings its unhatched rivals to claim her spot in the hive. There is also a rare occurrence where 2 queens will cooperate within the hive and live in peace.
Once the hive has established a new queen, she has to be mated. Usually within the first 7 days of life the queen will leave the hive to mate. The male bees will congregate in the atmosphere waiting for a queen to arrive. Once they mate, the male bees will die and the queen returns to her home. Queens can lay upwards of 3,000 eggs per day, building up the strength of the hive. They also have the ability to decide which eggs will be males and females. This is important since only female bees gather nectar and pollen, needed to make honey and raise new bees. This completes the circle of life for a queen.
Queens are the very heart of a beehive. They work tirelessly to maintain the hives workforce and balance within the colony. Without a queen, a hive will parish in a few weeks, leaving nothing but an empty box. If you’d like to learn more about bees, feel free to call me at the extension office. We are currently trying to build a local bee club for all those who are interested. As always, be safe out there.