Queen bees are vital to the survival of a honeybee colony. They are responsible for laying eggs, which hatch into new bees, and for maintaining the social structure of the hive. But how are queen bees made?!
Queen bees are not born as queens. Instead, they are created through a process called "royal jelly feeding". When a colony needs a new queen, the worker bees select several young larvae (typically no more than 24 hours old) and begin feeding them a special diet of royal jelly. This jelly is a mixture of secretions from the younger worker bees' glands and pollen. The larvae that are fed this jelly will develop into queen bees, while the rest will become worker bees.
This process of royal jelly feeding triggers a series of physiological changes in the larvae that will become queens. These changes include the development of reproductive organs and the ability to produce pheromones that will help them maintain their dominance over the colony. Once the new queen has fully developed, she will emerge from her cell and take over the duties of the old queen, who will either leave the colony with a swarm of worker bees or be killed by the workers!
The Life Cycle of Bees
The life cycle of bees begins with the queen laying eggs in the hive. The queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day in the peak summer season. The eggs are small and white and are laid at the bottom of cells of the honeycomb. The queen bee can control the sex of the eggs she lays by fertilising them with sperm which produces a female worker bee. Unfertilised eggs become male or drone bees.
Once the eggs hatch on Day 4, they become larvae. The larvae are fed by worker bees with a mixture of honey and pollen called "bee bread". The bee bread is rich in proteins, simple sugars, trace minerals, and vitamin C. Nurse bees take care of the larvae by cleaning them and feeding them until they are ready to pupate.
After about a week on Day 9, the larvae spin cocoons around themselves and enter the pupal stage. During this stage, the bees undergo metamorphosis and develop into their adult form. The pupal stage lasts for about 12 days for worker bees and 15 days for drones.
Adult Bee Development
Once the bees emerge from their cocoons, they get to work. Worker bees immediately begin their role in the hive, which includes tending to the queen, collecting nectar and pollen, and producing honey. The drone’s primary role is to mate with virgin queens from other hives to ensure the survival of the bee species.
The Role of Queen Bees
Queen bees are the most important members of the hive, responsible for reproduction and the continuation of the colony. They are larger than worker bees, with a distinctive elongated body and a stinger that is not barbed, allowing them to sting multiple times without dying.
Queen Bee Lifespan
Queen bees have a longer lifespan than worker bees, living for up to five years compared to just a few weeks for workers. However, their productivity declines with age, and they may be replaced by a new queen if the hive senses their reproductive output is decreasing.
Overall, the role of queen bees is crucial to the survival of the hive. They are responsible for the production of new bees, and their behaviour and pheromones help to maintain order and productivity within the colony. Beekeepers may use various methods to encourage queen production, such as using the emergency impulse which forces a colony that is temporarily without their queen to raise multiple queen cells.
Queen Bee Rearing
Queen Rearing in the Wild
In natural queen rearing, the worker bees select a few larvae and feed them royal jelly, a protein-rich substance produced by the nurse bees. The larvae selected for queen rearing are housed in queen cells, which are larger than the cells used for regular worker bees.
Swarming is a natural process that occurs when the hive becomes overcrowded. During swarming, the old queen bee leaves the hive with a portion of the worker bees, leaving behind queen cells with developing larvae. The first queen to emerge from her cell will kill the other developing queens.
Several days after emerging from her cell, the new queen will go on a mating flight to mate with multiple drones (called “polyandry”) at a nearby “drone congregation area”. She will store the sperm in a reproductive organ called the spermatheca, and this will last her entire lifetime.
Artificial Queen Rearing
Artificial queen rearing involves the beekeeper selecting a larva of around 24 hours old and moving it to an artificial queen cup. These cups are made from wax or plastic and are a larger cell than those used for worker bees. The chosen larvae are fed royal jelly for the entire development time.
The queen cup is then transferred to a small hive or “nucleus” which is a small hive used for mating flights. The new queen will go on a mating flight and return to the hive to begin laying eggs a few days after taking a successful mating flight.
Queen bee rearing is important for maintaining healthy and productive hives.
Queen bees are made through a complex process that involves a combination of environmental factors and genetic predisposition. The process starts with the selection of a young larva that is fed a special diet of royal jelly by worker bees. This diet triggers the development of reproductive organs and the growth of the larva into a queen bee.
While the exact mechanism behind the transformation of a larva into a queen bee is not fully understood, research has shown that it is influenced by various factors, including the quality and quantity of royal jelly, the age of the larva, and the presence of pheromones released by the queen bee.
It is worth noting that not all larvae that are fed royal jelly will become queen bees. In fact, only a small percentage of larvae are selected for queen bee development, with the majority developing into worker bees. This selective process is crucial for the survival and success of the honeybee colony, as it ensures that there is a balance between the number of worker bees and the number of reproductive queen bees.
Overall, the process of queen bee development is fascinating and complex, and it plays a crucial role in the survival and success of honeybee colonies. Further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind this process and to develop strategies for improving the health and productivity of honeybee populations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a queen bee?
A: A queen bee is a type of bee that is larger in size and is responsible for laying all the eggs in the hive.
Q: How are queen bees born?
A: Queen bees are born from bee larvae that are selected and fed differently than the rest of the larvae in the hive.
Q: What is queen rearing?
A: Queen rearing is the process of deliberately raising new queen bees to replace an old or failing queen in a hive.
Q: How does a larva become a queen bee?
A: A larva is selected to become a queen bee by being fed a special diet of royal jelly, which triggers the genes for queen development.
Q: Can a queen bee mate more than once?
A: Yes, a queen bee can mate multiple times with drone bees in her mating flight early in her life.
Q: How does a queen bee make more queen bees?
A: If a hive detects that it is queenless, worker bees will select young larvae and feed them royal jelly, which will turn them into new queen bees.
Q: What happens to the old queen when a new queen emerges?
A: When a new queen emerges, she will find the old queen and they will fight to the death. Only one queen can rule a hive.
Q: Can a hive have more than one queen?
A: No, a hive can only have one queen bee at a time. If there are multiple queens, they will fight to the death until only one queen remains.
Q: How long does a queen bee live?
A: A mated queen bee can live for up to four to five years and is responsible for laying up to 2,000 eggs a day.
Q: What happens if a hive doesn't have a queen bee?
A: If a hive doesn't have a queen bee, the worker bees may start to lay eggs, but these will only become drones. The hive will eventually die out without a queen.