Honey Bee Jobs: Queen Bee
Pictured: Queen in queen cage with her attendees
We call the queen “Her Royal Highness” because, frankly, she is spoiled. We could call her a princess, but she does have a lot of responsibilities. As for honey bee jobs, she doesn’t really have many, but her main job is the most important. Without her, there would be no hive.
There is a lot of fun stuff to learn about the queen bee of the hive, so I gave her her very own post.
The queen is a female (of course) and there is only one in a hive. Her body is long and tapered, larger than that of a worker, and varies in color (depending on the breed). She is fed, groomed, and completely taken care of by the worker bees (that’s the spoiled part). Shortly after hatching, she leaves the hive only to mate with several drones, then returns to the hive to stay for the rest of her life. Her big responsibility is laying eggs and she does this quite well. The queen bee will lay 1,000 to 3,000 eggs per day. Considering she lives to be 3-5 years old, that’s a lot of eggs!
When a hive gets too crowded (future swarm warning), a queen dies, or the rest of the hive senses she is getting too old or weak, they will rear a new queen to take her place. This is the only time more than one queen will occupy the same hive.
To rear a new queen, the workers will begin to feed some existing brood (the stage of development after the egg) royal jelly. Royal jelly is a special, highly nutritious food that aids in the development of the female bee. The worker bee is only fed royal jelly for a few days during their development. The growing queen, however, enjoys this treat the entire time she is growing. Royal jelly is made up of protein-packed pollen and carbohydrate-rich honey mixed with enzymes (the key ingredient) they produce in special glands. This “royal food” will cause the larva to mature into a queen with fully formed reproductive organs and hormone/pheromone producing glands. She will develop from an egg to an adult in just 16 days.
Since the queen is extra long, the workers will build her cell out longer than the rest of the hive cells. It is about the same size, shape, and texture of a peanut shell (best description I know) and is usually placed to the side or bottom of the hive frame. They protrude out from the hive and are very easy to spot.
To give the hive the best chance of survival, the workers will raise more than one queen bee at a time. As the new queens emerge from their cells, the first one will start to make a noise we call “piping.” This noise warns the other queens she is there and there will be a battle for the thrown. The hatched queens will find each other and battle it out, winner takes all. If a new queen finds another queen cell, that has not yet hatched, she will sting the cell to kill the competing queen before she hatches (brutal, I know).
If a new queen has already established her reign (meaning she has been accepted by the worker bees as their queen) when another queen emerges, the workers will “ball” her, a technique that is frequently used to get rid of predators. This will suffocate her queen so she cannot kill their new queen. It’s all about timing.
Here is a short video of a piping queen: