In human history, queens and kings were always born and their children heritage the throne and so on. Some were pronounced king or queen, but that was an exception. But how is it with honeybees, do they elect their queen or is a queen born? Let’s find out!
Are queen bees born?
No, queen bees are not born. For a bee to become a queen she must be female, but her queen status depends on what she was fed while she was a larva. Feeding larvae with royal jelly makes them grow to queens, feeding larvae with pollen and honey mainly, they become worker bees. Queen and worker bees are genetically the same.
If you are interested in the mating process of the queen bee and how exactly the egg develops into a full-grown adult bee, be sure to read “How do bees reproduce”.
How long do queen bees live?
A larva that is to become a queen develops faster than a working bee. The lifespan of the queen bee can be from 1 year up to 5 years, as long as she is fertile and lays enough eggs. By comparison, worker bees live 5-6 weeks only, and male drones around 2 months.
Can worker bees make a queen?
As mentioned above, queen bees are developed from a fertilized egg, where a larva has hatched that is fed with royal jelly. So yes, you can say that worker bees can make the queen since the working bees are the ones who feed the larvae. The queen only lays her eggs, all the work for her “children” is done by the worker bees.
Are queen bees genetically different?
Queen bees and worker bees are from the larvae state on genetically identical, yet when hatching they look so different. The queen is bigger, has a different behavior, she only lays eggs, is fed by the working bees, and does not die when stinging. And as mentioned above, only the diet of the larvae makes the difference if it is going to hatch into a queen or a worker.
Recent research has changed everything for our understanding of larvae development. For decades it was believed, that feeding the larvae with royal jelly is the reason for its development into a queen. However, for the last couple of years, scientists believe that it is the lack of honey and pollen in the bee`s diet, that makes them develop into a queen. You may wonder if worker bees can lay eggs too?
When a queen is alive, she spreads pheromones which suppress the egg development of the worker bees. However, if the mother bee dies and the hive is left with no replacement, there is no one to continue spreading the pheromone and worker bees may start to lay eggs. But since worker bees cannot mate, all the eggs they lay are infertile and only drones can hatch from them, and eventually, the beehive will die.
Are queen bees bigger?
Yes, queen bees are bigger than the male drones and the workers. An interesting fact is, that the mother bee has her biggest size, just when she has emerged from the egg. A newly hatched mother can weigh up to 212 mg, in comparison a fertilized mother can go up to 300mg. The size of the mother depends on her food sources, the bee type, and the environment, but an average length of her body would be around 16-20 mm.
How to spot a queen bee?
First of all, when opening the hive to inspect for the queen, you want to go light on the smoke, it is possible that if you smoke the hive too much, she might go into hiding. Then you want to go straight to the brood nest, she is very likely to be there and laying eggs. Queen bees are always surrounded by bees that feed them and they are flower-like shaped. Also when the queen is moving, all other bees go out of her way, so it is easy to track this disorder from above. Actually, most beekeepers spot the queen only by observing this visual break in the pattern.
As mentioned above the queen has a very long abdomen, so you want to look for the bees with the longest body. This makes her wings appear shorter, even though they are not. Then you want to focus on her back, it is shiny, black, or dark brownish and has no hair on it. And the last thing you want to focus on is her legs, they are long and light in color. Beginner beekeepers tend to mark the mother with a dot on her back, however, if you want to become a real beekeeper professional, you must be able to spot her without the help of dots and marks.
Is there a king bee?
No, there is no king bee. The only male is the drones and they participate only in the mating process, after that they are no longer needed. The queen does not need the male anymore in her life and all the care is taken by the worker bees, who are female.
What happens when the queen dies?
When the queen gets older and she can’t lay as many eggs as she used to, the worker bees build 10 to 20 queen-size chambers where the queen lays the eggs. When a new queen emerges, it is time for the new queen to leave the hive and find a new spot, to build a colony. This process is also called swarming. It is of high importance for the beekeeper to catch this swarm and not lose those bees.
If however, the queen dies by accident or from a disease, the colony is acting fast and swift to find fertilized eggs that are not older than 3 days and to move them into queen-sized cells and start feeding them with royal jelly only. From that period on it takes around 13 days for a new queen to hatch, in the meantime, the nest is very vulnerable. If the hive, however, does not incubate a new queen, it is in the beekeeper’s best interest to find a new one, otherwise, chaos can occur or the beehive may be attacked by another colony and all its honey storage will be stolen.
Why queen bees can sting multiple times?
The queen`s sting is not barbed, so when she stings someone she can easily pull her sting out. Worker bees however have a barbed sting, so if they sting someone who has thick skin, their sting gets stuck and when they try to pull it out, the sting and their body get ripped apart. Another reason for the queen bee to be able to sting multiple times is that when the hive needs new queens, the old queen lays multiple eggs. So when those eggs hatch, all the queens need to fight each other with their stings and the last survivor gets to be the mother bee of the beehive.