The Queen Bee
Posted on: 19 Dec 2017
We’ve all heard of the matriarchal bee, the queen bee, we’ve probably named the odd person a queen bee but do we actually know who she is?
The queen bee is typically a mated, adult bee that is often the mother of almost all the bees in a hive. Her main feature, accessory and weapon is a stinger without a barb allowing her to sting multiple times.
Creating a Queen Bee
It isn’t as simple as you may think! Worker bees begin by selecting larvae to be specially fed for the purpose of creating a bee that becomes sexually mature. Typically, there is only one queen bee in a hive and following all that speciality feeding the worker bees become extremely protective of her. The other bees in the hive are tasked with supporting the queen bees egg-laying productivity. Much of the support is provided by worker bees who produce honey stores over spring and summer to ensure the survival of the hive during the winter months when the queen bee is laying her eggs.
A queen bee lays her eggs when the hive is in the process of swarming. Swarming typically occurs during a 2-3 week period in spring. Swarming occurs when the queen bee leaves the hive to create a new bee colony. The queen bee is followed by approximately 60% of the worker bees from the original hive. Swarming is the time when reproduction occurs and the queen bee will begin laying her eggs in queen cups, a wax dome that is intended for the larvae of future queen bees.
The Virgin Queen
When a virgin queen bee emerges from a queen cell she will typically search for queen bee rivals and attempt to kill them. Workers bees will sometimes step in and stop the virgin queens from killing one another after the prime swarm has left, leaving the virgin queens to move on with after-swarms.
The surviving virgin queen will take flight on a sunny, warm day to join a drone congregation where she will mate with 12 – 15 drones for a day or more until she is fully mated. Virgin queens have a limited period to mate and in the event of poor weather, queen bees can be reduced to a drone layer, signalling the death of the hive.
As the queen bee ages, becomes diseased or starts to fail in her duties, workers bees begin to prepare to replace her in a procedure called Supersedure. Once a replacement queen is available worker bees will kill the queen bee by gathering tightly around her raising her body temperature until she overheats.
So it turns out the title of the queen bee isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. Yet the queen’s role in the hive, honey production and our environment is integral and we have her to thank for our delicious honey.