The survival of the colony depends on the drones, worker bees and the queen playing their respective roles effectively. Every colony has only one queen bee and her main job is to produce new bees. She is entirely fed and groomed by the worker bees so that she can concentrate on her egg-laying job. Unlike the other categories of bees, the queen has the hard task of laying hundreds of eggs on a daily basis to keep her colony strong.
The queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs each day over the course of her 3 – 4 year lifespan. In a year a queen can lay about 730,000 eggs, but during winter queens stop laying eggs and climax it during summer. The eggs laid by the queen daily are usually equivalent to her own weight.
Let’s find out what it takes the queen to keep the colony strong as far as egg laying is concerned.
How Long Does a Queen Bee Take to Lay Eggs?
Any beekeeper would be concerned about how quickly a queen can start laying eggs because the survival of the hive depends on it.
The timeline after which a queen would be comfortable enough and ready to start propagating the colony is dependent on various factors because a newly hatched virgin queen and an old queen transferred to a new hive would have different timelines for when they would be ready to start laying eggs.
Factors that dictate how quickly a queen bee will start to lay eggs include; whether it is an old queen that has been moved to a new hive, if the was splitting and swarming of the colony and if it is a newly hatched virgin queen bee.
Let us explore each of these factors independently to gain a clearer understanding.
- When it is a new queen is moved into a new hive
If a queen has been introduced into a new beehive, as is the common practice in beekeeping, she is bound to take some time before she feels comfortable enough in her new environment to begin laying eggs.
During the adjustment period, she is still getting used to the scent of the new hive and how everything is, including getting used to the worker bees. At this stage, the worker bees can either reject her in which case they will ignore her and not feed her or worse still they may kill her altogether.
As soon as that adjustment period everything has worked out smoothly, the introduced queen will not delay embarking on her egg-laying job provided she has already been mated. If she had not been previously mated, she will do so for the next 2 days and settle down.
Normally, it would take about a week for a queen to settle down in her new hive and begin laying eggs.
In case the new queen is packaged in a candy plug like post-ordered queens usually are, the timeline maybe longer. Because the way of introducing such a queen to the hive is by attaching the plug to the frame and leaving the job of freeing her from her cage to the worker bees. They would chew through the plug, an activity that can take up to 2 days for the queen to be freed. After which the queen will need another 2 days to familiarize herself with her new home.
In such a case you would expect a total of 7 to 10 days for this new queen to begin laying eggs.
- Duration it takes if the colony swarm or split
Swarming is a fairly common behavior among bee colonies. Once the colony has grown too big such that even the food reserves are strained, the next thing that would happen is a split. The split group moves out to find a new home and this is what is referred to as swarming.
Immediately the group that went out locates a suitable location for a hive, they settle down and the queen does not waste time getting started in laying eggs. Almost immediately after finding a favorable home, she begins to produce offspring so that her colony will grow strong again and establish itself in the new location.
- If it is a newly hatched virgin queen
In normal practice, it should be the prerogative of the beekeeper to split the colony when they notice that the numbers are swelling.
When the beekeeper is the one that has split the group, then because there was only one old queen, the effect would be that one of the new groups would need a new queen to be introduced.
If a colony realizes that it does not have a queen like in the case of a split, they quickly start rearing a new queen replacement. The same applies if the old queen dies.
To raise a new queen, the worker bees feed the hatched larva with special food (royal jelly) that will enhance her maturity to a sexually viable queen.
To reduce the probability of lacking a queen, the workers would normally do this to more than one larva and the eventuality of more than one queen hatching at the same time is not rare.
In case one queen emerges earlier than the others, she will use her smooth stinger to kill the unhatched queens. But if there is a hatching of more than one virgin queen, the solution is different.
The hatched virgin queens would engage in a battle of life and death and only the survivor would be mated and take her position as the new queen.
She will take mating flights for the next about 5 days. Meanwhile, she is maturing more and more in terms of her pheromones and her outward appearance. When she is ready, she is escorted out of the hive by workers for mating.
Several mating flights may be needed for the queen bee to have sufficient sperms that will last her for the entirety of her lifetime. After mating, she may need another 2 days for the proper storage of the collected sperms in her spermathecal. When this is done, she is fully ready for her egg-laying role.
In total, a newly hatched virgin queen would take between 2 and 3 weeks before she starts laying eggs. The laid eggs would usually hatch after another 21 days.
How Do Queen Bees Get Pregnant?
Queen bees do not give birth as humans do. They rather lay eggs which later hatch and develop into different types of bees.
A queen lays mainly two types of eggs; fertile and infertile eggs. The fertile eggs hatch into worker bees while the fewer infertile eggs hatch into drones. The ability of a queen to lay fertile eggs is dependent on how well she was mated after hatching.
To ensure she lays fertile eggs, the queen bee mates with several drones over the course of 5 days. The queen does not mate on a need-by-need basis or daily. It happens during a specific season of her life, once and for all.
Immediately she eliminates any competition by killing any other queen, she mates with as many drones as possible midflight. The sperms are collected and stored in a special organ within her for the rest of her life. It is from this organ that she draws and is able to lay fertilized eggs.
The lifespan of a queen bee is dependent on the number of drones that mate with her. The more the better. That is why some queens can live for as long as 7 years but most live for around 2 years before they become too old to continue.
If the queen was well mated, she will be able to lay many fertile eggs and give rise to a powerful colony. But as the genetic material begins to reduce, her ability to lay fertile eggs reduces and if she becomes ineffective the beekeeper will replace her if the workers will not have killed her before for she cannot mate again.
Can A Queen Lay 800 or 2000 Eggs Per Day?
A queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs in a day during the 3 or 4 years when it is most fertile. But 2000 eggs per day is on the higher side, averagely, most queens lay between 600 and 800 eggs daily. But the number of eggs laid will depend on how well she was mated, how well she is fed and other conditions within the hive.
It is the worker bees’ job to feed the queen and to groom her and clean after her. If she is not well fed, she will not be productive in laying eggs.
How Many Eggs Does the Queen Lay Every Year?
Considering a strong queen can lay up to 2000 eggs in a day, theoretically, she can lay almost 730,000 eggs a year, but that would be on the higher side. In reality, the number is less than that.
Different seasons affect the queen’s ability to lay eggs. During winter the queen ceases to lay eggs because the conditions are harsh and cannot support the survival of new bees. But she resumes laying eggs at a high rate from early spring till late numbers. During this period, the egg laying rate is at its peak so as to raise a population that will take advantage of the flower blooming season.
But not always will the queen bee lay 2000 eggs, because her production is dependent on the availability of space, also labor. If the eggs are too many, the worker bees will be overwhelmed and there may not even be enough food.
This is why, there is no constant number of eggs that the queen lays every day, but the number varies.
How Many Eggs Does a Queen Bee Lay in Her Lifetime?
It is another hard thing to calculate because many factors are involved. For instance, the time of the year that the queen hatches determines how well-mated she will be. Fall mated queens will have more drones available to mate with them compared to spring hatched queen since the hive is just coming from winter and trying to rebuild itself.
Sometimes the queen may mate with 12 drones other times it may mate with 20 drones and the number affects the total eggs it will lay during its lifetime.
What makes it harder to count is the fact that different eggs hatch at different times, therefore, the activity among the cells makes it harder to count the total eggs laid.
The varying lifespans among different queens is what brings even much more disparity. Some queens can live for 7 years yet others can live for only 2 years.
More so, the rate of laying eggs varies all through the queen’s life. When she is younger, and has sufficient genetic material, she can reach a maximum of 2000 eggs per day. As she gets older, the rate goes lower forcing the beekeeper or the workers to get rid of her.
Basically, it is impossible to predict or accurately approximate how many eggs a queen lays during her lifetime.
Does The Queen Lay All The Eggs?
As long as she is well mated, the queen can lay eggs continuously for several years. If she is well fed, not diseased and protected, she will efficiently lay all the eggs in the hive without help.
But if she starts to get sluggish due to age and depletion of the genetic material, the pheromones she releases that keep the female worker bees from laying eggs wear off.
If the queen dies or is too old, the worker bees will have nothing baring from laying eggs for they also have the ability to lay eggs only that the eggs laid by them are unfertilized and only hatch into drones.
What Determines The Sex Of The Hatched Egg?
Each egg the queen lays may be either fertilized or unfertilized. Fertilization or the lack of it is what determines what gender the hatched bee will become.
All unfertilized eggs will automatically become drones (male bees), but the fertilized eggs have an equal chance of becoming either worker bees or queen bees.
What turns a fertilized egg into a queen is if the larva is fed a special diet (royal jelly) all through its development, unlike the bee larvae which is fed honey and pollen from the fourth day.