Queen bee

Honeybee queens are developed from larvae selected by worker bees to become sexually mature. In each hive or colony, there is normally only one adult, mated queen, who is the mother of the bees of the hive, although there are exceptions.


Peanut-like queen brood cells
extend outward from the broodcomb.

Queen Larva Floating on Royal Jelly
in open queen cell

Table of contents
1 Development
2 Reproduction
3 Daily Life for the Queen
4 Swarm Management
5 Identification
6 External link

Development

The queen develops more fully than sexually immature workers, because she is given royal jelly, a secretion from glands on the heads of young workers, for an extended time, and she is given a specially constructed cell, which is larger than the cells of normal brood comb, and also is oriented vertically instead of horizontally. There are three kinds of queen bee cells: large, solitary cells, usually on the bottom of the comb (or in a hole if in the middle of the comb), constructed by the workers when they want to replace the queen; smaller grouped cells, at the same positions as previous, constructed when the colony is swarming; and solitary cells usually on the surface of the middle of the comb, constructed as expansion of a normal cell if a colony loses its queen. The best queens are those from replacement cells.


Queen cell opened to show
queen pupa (with darkening eyes).

As the young queen larva pupates with her head down, the workers cap the cell with beeswax. When ready to emerge, she will chew a circular cut around the cap of her cell. Often the cap swings open when most of the cut is made, so as to appear like a hinged lid.

When the young queens are ready to emerge, they often begin to "pipe," a shrill peeping, which is thought to be a challenge to other emerged or ready to emerge virgins. Unless the workers restrain them, emerged virgins will quickly find and kill rivals. During the swarm season, workers may separate young queens, thus keeping alive more than one for a brief period. The extra queens may go with swarms or afterswarms, to sort out their survival in a new home.

Reproduction

When one queen survives in a colony, she will go out, on a sunny, warm day to mate with 12-15 drones. She has only a limited time to mate, and if she is unable to fly, because of bad weather, and remains unmated, she will become a "drone layer." Drone laying queens usually mean the death of the colony, because the queens have no fertilized (female) larvae from which to raise a replacement. If there is a deficit of drones, or the weather provides too brief a window for full mating, the queen may be able to function briefly, laying fertilized eggs for a few weeks or months, but will begin to lay drone eggs at some point earlier than the normal 2-3 year life span of queens.

If workers realize their queen is failing, and the weather will allow a replacement to be raised and mated, the bees can "supersede" the queen. However, supersedure will fail in winter in colder climates, because there are no drones and the queens cannot fly to mate.


Adult queen with attendants

Daily Life for the Queen

A queen has no control of the hive, as the name might imply, but she is the reproductive portion. Actually she is an "egg laying machine." A good queen, of quality stock, well reared with good nutrition, and well mated, can lay about 2,000 eggs per day during the spring build-up, and live for two or more years. She lays her own weight in eggs every couple hours, and is continuously surrounded by young worker attendants, who meet her every need, giving her feed, and disposing of her waste. They also lick her body for the pheromones that are needed for well being of the colony.

Because the social structure is so complex and fixed, honeybee colonies can be thought of as an organism, and the individual bees are simply cells of the organism; they cannot survive on their own. The queen is responsible for the reproduction of the "cells", but also is responsible through her own pheromone production for the reproduction of the whole colony. This usually takes place in the spring and is called swarming.

Swarm Management

During the first year of a queen's life the colony has little incentive to swarm, unless the hive is very crowded. During her second spring, however, she seems to be programmed to swarm. Without beekeeper "swarm management" in the second year, the hive will cast a "prime swarm" and one to five "after swarms." The old queen will go with the prime swarm, and others will be accompanied by virgins. For a beekeeper to allow swarming is equivalent to a cattleman losing all his calves. Furthermore the hive that cast the swarm is often so badly depleted that it will be unproductive for the entire season. For this reason, beekeepers try to anticipate swarming and assist the bees to reproduce in a more controlled fashion by "splitting hives" or making "nucs." This saves the "calves" and keeps the "cow" in condition to accomplish some work.

For more information on the bio-chemical factors that govern swarming, see this external link.

Identification

ColorUsed for
years
ending in
white1 or 6
yellow2 or 7
red3 or 8
green4 or 9
blue5 or 0

As is visible in the photograph preceding the "Daily Life" section, the queen is noticeably longer than the worker honeybees surrounding her. However, in a hive of 60-80,000 honeybees, it is often difficult for beekeepers to find the queen with any speed: for this reason, many queens in non-feral colonies are marked with a light daub of paint on their thorax. The paint used does no harm to the queen, and makes her much easier to find when necessary. Although the color is sometimes randomly chosen, professional queen breeders use a system whereby the color of a queen's dot indicates what year she hatched (therefore aiding beekeepers who are deciding whether their queens are too old to maintain a strong hive, and need replacing). Sometimes, even a tiny plate is used with the number of the queen.

Queen bees cannot live more then five years.

External link

audio file of piping queens



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