The fact that a hive can only have one queen bee makes them very rare. The queen bee is the most unique member of the entire colony. She is the only fertile bee in the entire hive. Her main duty is to lay eggs for the purpose of ensuring the colony propagates. If a queen is missing in the hive, the bees may make a new one. The process takes about 16 days until she is fully grown and ready to mate.
A queen bee has a great influence on the behavioral characteristics of the other bees, by the pheromones she sends out. She can stop worker bees from producing eggs, and her job of laying eggs is crucial for it plays an important role in the continuation of the colony.
Queen bees lay hundreds of eggs in a day and at the peak of the summer season their egg-laying can reach up to 2500 eggs in a single day. Her role in laying eggs renders her the most important member of the hive.
Hives do not always start off with one queen bee. Worker bees are the ones responsible for making new queens, and when they do, often they make more than one queen. The reason for this is to increase the chances of having a strong and viable queen. But, in the long run, only one queen can operate in the hive. To achieve this, a newly hatched queen will kill by stinging its unhatched rivals while they are still in their cells. Incase two queens hatch at the same time, the only way out to remain with one queen is for them to fight till death.
The fact that every hive can have hundreds of many other bees, including drones and worker bees and only one queen bee is what makes queen bees very rare.
Apart from their rarity, there are many mesmerizing facts about queen bees. Keep reading to learn more.
How Does A Bee Become Queen?
The existing worker bees are the ones responsible for turning a bee into a queen bee using the eggs laid by their old queen. Turning a bee into a queen is a process that starts while the bee is still a young larva, immediately after hatching.
Not just any egg can be turned into a queen. Both fertilized and unfertilized eggs are laid by a queen. A queen bee can only hatch from a fertilized egg, worker bees catch also from fertilized eggs. Unfertilized eggs on the other hand can only become drones (male bees).
All fertilized eggs can thus be turned into queen eggs, and this is dependent on the diet the nursing bees feed the larvae. In the first few days, the larvae are fed special food by the nursing bees, famously known as royal jelly. After the fourth day, however, worker larvae are taken off the royal jelly diet and it is switched with honey and pollen. Queen bee larvae remain on the royal jelly diet for the rest of their development and life.
Royal jelly is different from the normal food given to the other larvae. It is richer and so special that it is able to help the larva turn into a fertile queen bee. A cell inside the hive encloses the larva. It develops into a pupae and later turns into a queen.
How Much Is A Queen Be Worth? Where Can I Buy?
Queen bees are not cheap because they are not easy to find or rear. The price range for a honeybee queen can vary between $25 and $32 for the US.
You can order a queen bee from a local beekeeper in your area, or you could contact your beekeeping community to know where they source for their queen bees. Even beekeeping groups on Facebook can be a great source for your new queen bee.
Can I Make My Own Queen Bee?
It is possible for you as a beekeeper to raise your own queen bees. To make your own queen bees, you must use the young fertilized worker bees’ larvae.
There are various methods that you can use to do so. Queen rearing methods include; walk-away split, Cloake board, artificial insemination, use of Jenter kit with the most common being the Doolittle method.
Doolittle larvae less than 24 hours old are grafted into bars of queen cell cups and placed in cell-building colonies. Cell-building colonies are those colonies without a queen and are working hard to develop larvae into queens by feeding them royal jelly.
After 10 days in the cell building days, the queen cells are moved to small mating nuclei colonies located in mating yards where they hatch. In about a week, the newly hatched virgin queens mate with around 20 drones in a single flight and then return to their mating nuclei after having been mated.
It is possible to do rearing of queens on a commercial scale and sell to others or do it as a hobby in backyard beekeeping to ensure you have a constant supply of queen bees for your hives.
How Long Does A Queen Bee Live?
Although most insects have short lifespans, queen bees tend to live for several years, up to 7 years. A queen bee has the longest life span within a colony because of a crucial role in the continuation of the colony.
Unlike the other bees which can live for 2-5 years, her life span can stretch to 7 years in some cases.
The number of years a queen bee can live is dependent on how many drones she mated with initially. Immediately after queen bee hatches, she fights to the death with any competitors ensuring she remains as the only queen in the colony. Thereafter, she goes on a mating spree with as many drones as she can and stores the sperms in a specialized organ, from which she will draw for the rest of her life. This is done while midflight and goes on for a day or two. Mating with the queen is done only once in her lifetime. For the rest of her life, she will only be laying eggs.
A well-mated queen will survive for many years with her colony. As years go by, the queen bee will begin to run out of genetic material, and once it is exhausted that marks the end of her life. The bees will replace her or even the beekeeper. On average, queens are able to lay efficiently for 3 consecutive years.
One of the reasons queen bees tend to also live very long is that they rarely leave the hive, and are very well protected. Even during winter, the worker bees work extra hard to ensure she survives, including regulating her temperature.
If the queen is realized to be slacking in her job of laying eggs (up to 2500 eggs in a day), the workers will by instinct begin to develop a new queen. The replacement process of pampering a new queen and neglecting the old one is known as supersedure. Eventually, the neglected old queen will waste away and die or she may be killed by the worker bees. Though according to good beekeeping practices, the beekeeper is advised to have her replaced in about 2 years.
What Happens If A Queen Bee Dies?
The queen bee plays a critical role in a hive. If she dies then the entire colony is turned into temporary disarray, before the bees refocus and start rearing a new queen bee.
As the only egg layer in the hive (which can at times encompass up to 100,000 bees), the queen bee is crucial. While she is still alive, she releases chemical signals that keep the other female bees from laying eggs for they also have ovaries. When she dies or disappears from the hive, the wearing off of these chemical signals causes the worker bees to start laying eggs, albeit unfertilized ones. Consequently, the efficient colony system breaks down bringing chaos.
Soon after though, the worker bees will start rearing a new queen. They will take fertilized eggs less than three days old and house them in the house cells. After hatching they will be continually fed royal jelly for the next 6 days. 8 days later they emerge and are able to take mating flights with drones after killing the competitors (the other hatched queen bees). It takes 16 days for the hive to rear a new queen.
Hive Without A Queen, What Do I Do?
A hive without a queen cannot survive for very long. Although the worker bees could raise a new queen, at times they may not succeed in doing that. You will be forced to introduce a new queen to the hive if you want your colony to survive. You can purchase a queen bee from dealers who engage in commercial queen rearing. Alternatively, you may have to combine your colony with another hive that already has a queen.
The effect of a queenless colony is the worker bees become aggressive and easily agitated. They also begin to lay unfertilized eggs that only turn out to be drones. Male bees never work or collect food. If they greatly increase in numbers within a hive, the productivity of the hive goes down since workers are fewer and the colony will disappear within no time. If you don’t introduce a new queen, the colony will also be more vulnerable to pests and diseases and very stressed. Do not wait for that to happen, quickly introduce a new queen to your colony.