Straight Facts About the Queen Honey Bee
The queen honey bee is undoubtedly the most popular bee in the hive. Everything involving hive life evolves around the queen bee. However, is the queen bee really in charge? Let’s explore some queen bee facts and see!
Man (and woman) have beeninteracting with honey bees for thousands of years. So, we know everything about queen bees by now, right? No, nothing could be farther from the truth. Many queen bee facts remain unknown.
Researchers and beekeepers continue to learn new things about all bees. How bees communicate with each other, how they interact with the environment and the roles played by individual bees are still being studied. And we have been studying bees for hundreds of years.
We have learned some important things about the most popular bee in the box, the queen bee. Here are some Queen Bee Facts that you need to know to be a successful beekeeper. And if you are not a beekeeper, you may still find them very interesting.
Queen Bee Facts – #1 Size
How Big Is A Queen Bee?
The queen bee is the largest bee in the honey bee colony.
This is due to her long abdomen containing ovaries to produce a lifetime’s quantity of eggs. The length also allows her to cement an egg into the bottom of a honey comb cell.
Drones (male bees) are often mistaken for a queen by beginning beekeepers. It’s an easy mistake to make. This is especially difficult on a frame with hundreds of bees moving around.
Drones are wider and noticeably different than regular workers,but they cannot compare in length to a mature queen bee. The number of drones present vary during the warm season. But, all drones and no workers is a sign of problems with your queen.
Another queen bee fact – her size can change!
It is very easy to over-look a young virgin queen in a crowded colony. A new queen can look very similar in size to some of the workers. As she matures and progresses into her egg laying role, she will plump up.
Another situation involving queen size is the time of swarming. Worker bees feed the queen honey bee. When the colony is preparing to duplicate by swarming, a queen bee is fed less.
She will slim down making flight possible. Anyone who has ever stressed to find a slim queen in a hive of 60,000 bees understands the problem.
Queen Bee Facts – #2 – Genetically Like Workers
The queen honey bee develops from a fertilized egg.
Any fertilized egg laid by a queen has the potential to become a queen bee. The quality and quantity of food feed to bee larva determines reproductive development.
A queen bee shares the same genetic material as thousands of her sisters. For years, it was believed that only royal jelly was responsible for queen development. Today, researchers are thinking that other food substances may be involved.
How Long Does It Take A Queen Bee to Hatch or Emerge?
The honey bee life cycle is amazing. Worker bees develop from egg to adult in 21 days. Drone bees make the same journey in 24 days.
But it only takes 16 days for the most vital bee in the hive to reach adulthood! From egg to adult queen bees only requires 16 days.
Queen Bee Facts – #3 Her Role in the Hive
What Does the Queen Bee Do?
The queen is not the boss of the hive !
WHAT?! It’s true that she is important. However, it is an amazing queen bee fact that she does not make all the important decisions.
Workers feed the queen inside the colony. She does not feed, groom or clean herself. If the workers don’t feed her, her health suffers. She relies on her “retinue” of workers for her every need.
The queen decides where to lay eggs right?
Yes, that is true but the workers play an important role in that as well. A queen moves across the honeycomb surface checking empty cells.
She measures them with her antenna and front legs. This is to determine whether it is a worker-sized cell or a drone-sized cell.
But, she will not lay an egg if the worker bees have not cleaned and polished the cell.
So if the colony needs drones, the workers construct and or clean drone cells. If no drones are needed, those honeycomb cells will not be prepared for the queen to use.
Now that is one amazing queen bee fact for sure! And we thought she was totally in control of egg laying!
Having a good queen bee is vital to the well being of the colony. So much so, that some beekeepers resort to rearing extra queens to use in their hives or sell to other beekeepers.
It is never a bad idea to have an extra queen on hand for your colonies. A small “nuc” colony can house an extra queen for a while – ready to be used if needed.
Queen Bee Facts – #4 – Smooth Stinger
A queen honey bee does not die if she stings you.
Almost everyone knows that a worker honey bee dies as a result of stinging a person or other mammal. But a queen bee can sting you and live to talk to about it!
Why? Because a worker bee has the job of colony defense. When bees sting, their barbed stinger sticks in your skin. This causes the stinger and poison sac to rip out and continue to inject venom!
If you get stung by a honey bee, you may try some sting remedies for relief!
A queen bee does not participate in defending the colony. Her stinger is not barbed, it is smooth. She uses her stinger to repeatedly sting other rival virgin queens. Queen bees rarely sting humans.
Queen Bee Facts – #5
Queen honey bees do not mate inside the hive.
A few days after emerging from her queen cell, she will take flight on a warm, sunny afternoon. Flying to a location where drone bees are congregated, she will mate in mid-air.
Before her mating flights are completed, the queen honey bee will mate with between 12 and 20 drones.
How does she know where to go? We don’t know the answer to that . (I told you we still had things to learn about bees.)
If the virgin queen mated inside the hive, she would be mating with her brothers. By mating well away from her colony, she is more likely to mate with unrelated drones. This is a good thing because is promotes genetic diversity.
Queen Bee Facts – #6 – They Stay Home
Queen bees just don’t get out a lot.They might be described as home-bodies, or rather, hive-bodies?
Workers take care of her every need. Royal jelly consumed by the queen bee results in little waste products. Fed and cleaned by her daughters, she has no reason to fly.
The queen bee only leaves the hive to mate (when she is young) and if the colony swarms.
Queen Bee Facts #7
How Honey Bees Recognize Their Queen
Queen Bees Smell Funny. Okay, let me phrase it another way.
Each queen bee has a unique smell. Smell is very important to honey bees. They use odors as a form of communication.
A queen constantly emits pheromones. (These are like our hormones but on the outside.) These pheromones are passed throughout the colony.
Workers spread them by antenna touching and other grooming activities. As the queen bee ages, she emits less pheromones.
Eventually, the colony will make a new (pheromone rich) queen to replace her. Egg production is highest in young queens and declines over time.
As egg laying and pheromone levels drop, her time is growing short. She may have the ability to live up to 2 years. But most colonies replace their queen much sooner.
How Beekeepers Introduce A New Queen
This queen pheromone activity is very important. It is the reason why a beekeeper can not simply drop a new queen in a queen-less colony.
She will smell different than all the other occupants. Workers of the colony view her as a threat and kill her.
Bee suppliers place a new queen in a special cage (queen cage) that is placed inside the hive. This queen cage gives colony members a chance to get to know her.
Hive workers will feed her through the wire and after a period of time (usually 3 – 7 days), she is accepted as the new queen.
I also like to mark my queens, this makes finding and replacing a queen easier. Being able to find your queen is a good skill to perfect. Marked queens are easier to find and good practice.
Don’t be upset if it take you a while to learn how to find a queen bee: marked or not. It takes time and practice.
Want to practice finding queens? (Wish the quality was better but its still good practice!) – Video
We know so many things about queen bees and bees in general. But, we have a long way to go to unlock all the mysteries of the honey bee.
I have been studying honey bees for over 10 years and still feel that I know so little. If you are considering beekeeping, I hope you will check out my online beekeeping class. It contains hours of video with practical beekeeping information.
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