Queen bees begin the same as any other fertilized bee egg. The main difference is their rich diet of royal jelly and an extended sized cell. In each colony, there normally only exists a single mated adult queen, however it is not unheard of to have a mother and daughter queen function in the same hive at the same time. There have even been recorded examples of grandmother, mother and daughter queens working in the same hive, however it is not possible to have sister queen working at the same time. In most cases, because she is the only mated bee in a queenright hive, the queen is either the mother or sister of all bees within a hive.
The queen is the largest bee within a colony. She is considered by some to have an almost wasp like form, but obviously closely resembles the form of a bee. The queen will have a longer body than any other bee within the colony, it will seem almost as if her wings are simply too short. If you are lucky the queen will be marked and will easily stand out as compared to the rest of the bees. Depending on race the queen may be lighter or darker than the other bees.
The Queen's Court
The queen bee is wholly unable to care for herself, because of this she is often surrounded by a ring of attendant bees that follow her, feed her, groom her and carry away her waste.
The queen bee does have a stinger, and unlike that of a worker bee it is not barbed, and may thereby be extracted after a sting without killing her. This means that a queen is capable of stinging multiple times, however it is extremely rare for a queen to sting a beekeeper, even if being treated roughly. The queen's sting is most often reserved for dispatching other queens within the hive.
From Egg to Bee
Queens develops more fully than their sexually immature hive mate workers because of her vitamin and mineral rich royal jelly diet. The queen Brood must also be raised in a larger specially constructed queen cell.
Queen cells, unlike normal brood cells, are built vertically instead of horizontally. This special queen cell is often referred to as a peanut or peanut cell. There exist three main distinctions regarding queen cells and their specific purposes.
- Swarm cells
- Swarm cells are created near the bottom of the comb during a time when a swarm is likely. The new queen often stays behind with the old queen leaving with the swarm.
- Supersedure cell
- Supersedure cells are created mid-level on the comb, there is likely always a few in existence. Any queen that hatches from a supersedure cell will likely replace the active queen.
- Replacement cell
- Replacement cells are built in case of emergency to replace a missing queen.
Once the queen to be has hatched from her egg, workers cap the cell enclosing her. In some case where the queen is lost, even after the larva within has hatched, a normal cell may be converted into a queen cell and the larva can be coaxed into becoming a queen.
As young queens begin to emerge from their cell, they often begin to emit a high-pitched perching sound called a pipe. This signal is thought to be a notification of hatching to challenge other emerging or existing queens. Emerged un-mated queens in most cases will quickly find and kill their developing queen sisters.
Within a week or two after hatching, on a clear warm day, a new queen will take part in a nuptial flight in order to mate with several drones. This virgin queen will only have a short window where successful mating may take place. If unable to mate due to bad weather, or other consequences, the queen will become what is considered a drone layer. In nature a queen that solely lays drones means certain death for the colony, as there will exist no fertilized eggs from which a replacement queen may be raised. Because the queen is able to store the sperm from the drones she mated with, the queen should be able to lay fertilized eggs for her 2-3 year life span. After mating, the queen will not leave the hive, with the possible exception of joining a swarm.
Once mated it is the queen’s primary function to act as sole extender of her line of genetics. In essence the queens bee’s purpose is to constantly lay eggs. A healthy queen which was well cared for and a proper mating, may lay up to 1,500 eggs per day during peak times of the spring build-up, as quick as a new egg in a thirty second interval. During a time of prosperity the queen may lay several times her own weight in eggs every day.
The queen is also responsible for producing a pheromone commonly referred to as the queen substance. This pheromone alerts the entire hive to the queen’s well being, if absent, even if just for a few hours, the entire colony is notified and work is begun creating a new queen.
- Day 0
- A fertilized egg is laid by the reigning queen.
- Day 3
- The fertilized egg hatches.
- Day 9
- The queen’s cell is capped.
- Day 16
- The new queen emerges from her cell.
- Days 19-21
- The queen’s orientation Flight takes place.
- Days 23-26
- The queen takes her nuptial Flights
- Days 26-30
- The queen begins to lay eggs.
- It is possible for a queen to live for up to 5 years, however she is often replaced within 2.
- The queen bee, though always considered a monarch, was once considered to be a king bee.
- Despite her royal title, the queen bee has little to no say to what goes on within a hive. This task is up to the workers.