Bees bring balance to the ecosystem. If bees were to become extinct, the rest of the world population will follow soon after. For bees to thrive, they must have a healthy queen.
A beehive usually has only one queen at a time. All activities in the hive revolve around the queen. It is in a colony’s best interest to ensure their queen is safe. A queen-less hive cannot survive for long neither can it function efficiently.
If a queen dies, the colony will discover within a few minutes and fall into temporary disarray. They then quickly raise a new queen and if they do not find another queen quickly, the colony structure will collapse and the remaining bees die off.
What is the Role of a Queen Bee within the Colony?
The queen bees’ main role is to ensure the continuation of the colony by laying eggs throughout her life. A queen is able to lay up to 2000 eggs per day and she does this as long as she lives until she dies by natural causes or is killed.
In addition to laying eggs that will develop to give rise to the new generation of bees to replace the dying ones, the queen is literally the nucleus of the colony. Without her, the coordination of activities that ensures everything runs smoothly will come to a standstill. The worker bees are able to run their activities of foraging for nectar and pollen, cleaning the hive, guarding and production of honey because they are assured that the colony is in order courtesy of the presence of the queen. If she dies, all that is ruined.
Part of a queen’s crucial role is the release of pheromones that prevents the other female bees from laying eggs. If the other female bees will lay eggs in competition with the queen, the whole system will make no sense and will crumble.
What is the Average Lifespan of a Queen Bee?
A healthy queen has the potential to live for up to six years. But in reality, the lifespan of most queens is actually cut shorter than that as their productivity reduces. The colony will either get rid of her themselves if the beekeeper does not replace her earlier.
The queen lives the longest in a colony compared to the drones who die immediately after mating with a new queen and the worker bees who have a lifespan of six weeks.
What Actually Happens if the Queen Bee Dies?
The queen bee’s role within the hive cannot be emphasized enough. She is the force behind a thriving hive. But she is not immortal like most other living beings. There comes a time that she dies. Could be as a result of a disease, age or any other possible reason among the myriad possibilities.
In the case of the loss of a queen, the colony will do everything necessary to get another queen within the shortest time possible for the progress of the hive.
When alive, the queen releases chemical signals that hinder the rest of the female bees from laying eggs by inhibiting their ovaries.
As soon as she dies, the absence of the chemical signals causes the ovaries of the female worker bees to become active and they will begin to lay eggs although these eggs are unfertilized. If that happens, the monarchial system collapses.
To avoid such potential chaos, the female worker bees immediately spring into action and start rearing a new queen.
Swarming Behavior Because of the Loss of a Queen
Swarming is common in colonies that have lost their queen or the current queen is too old and her egg-laying capabilities have deteriorated highly.
If a queen dies or becomes too old, a group of worker bees will exit the colony with a new virgin queen in tow and relocate to a different place.
In preparation for swarming, the worker bees will prepare the cells for the new queens and limit any fieldwork as they await the emergence of a new queen.
When a new virgin queen emerges, more than half of the colony will leave with their new queen after taking much of the honey and will begin traveling from one place to another in search of a new home. It is not uncommon to find the swarm gathered on a tree as they await a report from the scout bees on the best location for establishing a new home.
The trend of swarming will continue with other subsequent queens often within days of each other. Some bees may remain in the old hive, although by then, the colony may have grown too weak to survive without support from the beekeeper.
Where Do Queen Bees Come From?
Queen bees are simply specialized female worker bees. She comes from the same batch of eggs as her sister worker bees only that she was intentionally taken through a slightly different growth process.
When there is a need for a new queen, a number of female larvae are selected for special treatment. It is this special treatment and attention by the worker bees that converts a female larvae into a queen. Part of the special treatment is being fed special brood food.
How Does A Bee Colony Replace Its Queen?
The absence of the previous queen’s pheromone is what triggers the action of the worker bees towards raising another new queen to replace the old or dead one.
The worker bees begin an emergency queen rearing process by selecting 10 to 20 young female larvae. By them, they would already have built rearing chambers sizeable enough for these potential queen bees considering they are usually larger in size.
The emergency rearing of a new queen is not different from the rearing process of replacing a living old queen bee. Because, when a queen becomes old, her pheromone is also low triggering the worker bees to start the same queen replacement process. The only difference is that, if she is still alive but aged, she will lay the queen eggs in the prepared cells herself.
Under ordinary circumstances, the female eggs would hatch and grow up to be worker bees. But now that they are located in specialized cells that are vertically oriented and larger in size they will turn out different. These specialized cells have the appearance of large peanuts and can be attached to the bottom of the comb or hang downwards from the honeycomb.
The best larva candidates for rearing into queens are those that are 1 day old.
To turn them into queens, the worker bees feed them royal jelly in large amounts. This is a specialized diet that turns the larvae into a fertile queen and not a sterile worker bee. By the time the queen bee grows, its ovaries are fully developed and ready to be fertilized by drones in readiness for raising the next generation.
At some point, the cells may be capped to allow proper bee development.
16 days later, the new queen will emerge. As soon as one of the virgin queen bees emerges from her cell, she proceeds to sting the other developing queens to eliminate competition. If two emerge concurrently, they will fight each other until death and the winner will take the position of the new queen. The fight is necessary to ensure that only the strongest queen survives so as to give rise to a strong colony.
She will begin her reign by mating with drones mid-flight and later on takes her envious role within the colony of laying eggs for the rest of her life. Mating can take place even 80 feet up in the air (25m) and can go on for several days.
On average, the virgin queen can mate with 12 to 20 drones until her spermathecal is saturated with semen. After which she will never mate with any other male again until she dies. Within 3 to 5 days after mating, she is ready to start laying eggs.
The whole process from losing a queen to raising a new one takes 29 days.
What happens if a Bee is Unable to Rear a New Queen Bee?
Emergency rearing of a new queen may not always work. The outcome of having a queen-less colony is that the worker bees become highly agitated and show increased aggression.
In addition, the worker bees will start to lay unfertilized eggs which all hatch to become drones. The increase of drones in the hive has serious negative consequences to the hive. Drones never go foraging for food neither do they help in any duties within the hive.
As more and more drones are born, the productivity of the colony decreases and the level of stress increases. The colony becomes vulnerable to pests and diseases because there is no enough food that keeps the bees healthy and strong to fight against infection.
In such a case, the only possible way out is for a beekeeper to introduce a queen bee from outside.
Queen bees can be purchased from commercial sellers who specialize in rearing queen bees for sale.
How Long Can a Colony Survive after Losing its Queen?
As soon as the queen is removed from a hive and she is not replaced by another, the hive will fall into chaos. Hive life may continue for some time but not like when a queen is present. The worker bees will go about their normal activities apart from laying unfertilized eggs which turn into drones. The workers will still die after the end of their lifespan which is usually about 6 weeks.
But the running of the hive will not last for long. As drones increase in number and female worker bees keep laying eggs, the system will eventually grind to a halt after a number of months.
What Can Cause a Colony to Lose its Queen Bee?
It is rare for a colony to lose its queen bee. The queen is the most protected member of the colony and by the time she is accessed, the damage to the hive is probably beyond repair.
Three factors are the most common culprits for losing a queen bee. The three are; disease, predatory attacks and error by the beekeeper among other factors.
Bees like other organisms are vulnerable to diseases and infections. This is the reason good apiary management practices are necessary to ensure your colony stays free from disease.
There are several potential ways of doing this such as chemical treatment of your hive and use of grease patties to keep away mites.
- Attacks from predators
Bees are prime targets for predators because of their precious honey and also themselves can be feasted upon as food by some predators. Common predators include bears and other aggressive colonies that come to rob honey.
You can keep away these predators through wise management for example using electric fences.
- Beekeeper error
During routine maintenance and inspection, a beekeeper may error and accidentally kill a queen. If this happens, you have two options. To either purchase a new queen or give the colony time to raise their own queen.
Letting the hive rear its own queen is often a better option because you may introduce a queen who will be rejected by the colony.
How Quickly Does it Take for a Colony to Discover Their Queen is dead or missing?
Pheromones within a colony are the signals that reassure the worker bees that all is well and life should progress as normal. When pheromones are missing, the worker bees will detect the absence of their queen in a span of 15 minutes since her departure.
The death of an old queen can bring a bit of confusion for some time to a colony, but the worker bees soon refocus and work towards rearing a new queen.
The worker bees will waste no time in finding another queen after this loss.
Therefore, if you are a beekeeper, for the sake of the health of your bees never allow your colony to go for long without a queen bee if you don’t want to risk losing your bees through swarming.