Butterfly and Bee Garden

Butterfly Bee Garden

Life and Role of a Queen Bee in Hive: Insights into the Most Important Bee

The health of the bee population in a specific area can have a huge impact on plant growth and we rely on these busy little creatures to pollinate flowers and food crops. At the heart of every bee hive, there is the most important bee, the queen, and without her the entire colony would fall apart. In this article, we will take a closer look at some interesting queen bee facts and the role of the Queen Bee in Hive, to give you a better appreciation of these fascinating insects.

The Physical Characteristics of a Queen Bee


Queen Bee Cage
Queen Bee Cage

If you have the opportunity to safely observe a queen bee in hive, they are easy to recognize. The queen bee is always the largest bee and her wings usually only extend half way down the abdomen, unlike a regular male bee. They are usually 20 mm (0.78 inches) long and they have well developed reproductive organs including the spermatheca.


This is where the sperm that is collected during her mating flights is stored until needed. The collected sperm will be used throughout the duration of her life to lay fertilized eggs to produce female bees to succeed her. A queen bee has a smoother stinger than a worker bee which has a distinct barb.


Unlike a worker, a queen bee can sting multiple times without dying and they even fight other queens. But, most of the time a queen will be pretty docile, she will use her stinger to lay and position eggs to her satisfaction. Beekeepers are rarely stung by queen bees if they are careful when handling them.


The Life Cycle of a Queen Bee in Hive


We’ve already answered the question, what does the queen bee do? But, this leads to a second commonly asked question, what makes a queen special?


The best analogy to make is that a queen is royalty, she is actually selected for this role before she is born. The queen bee egg is treated as a special egg cell and even provided with a specific diet in the larval stage of development.


As the queen matures, she will mate a few times and from that point on wards she will lay eggs and stay in the hive for the remainder of her life.


Here are five interesting queen bee facts on each stage of her lifecycle:


1.    The Queen Egg


The queen bee egg is special, it hangs vertically in a cell and it’s also referred to as the “queen cup”. The workers will build these specific cells when the current queen has weakened or if the colony has grown too large and swarming is about to occur.

Several queen cells may be built and the existing queen will lay a single egg in each cell. If the queen dies or leaves the hive with a swarm, the worker bees will locate a young larva or egg and place it in the cell.


2.    The Diet of the Baby Queen Bee


Marked Queen Bee in Hive
Marked Queen Bee in Hive

When the queen eggs hatch the new larvae are fed a special diet until they become fully mature. Initially, this is a fluid that is secreted by nurse bees which is known as “royal jelly” and you may have seen this in health stores.


Queen bees are fed large volumes of royal jelly which encourages the development of ovaries and their larger body shape. At the end of their larval stage, the new queen bees are fed honey that includes hormones which develop their bodies.


3.    Fighting of the Queen Bee in Hive


After 6-8 days of growth, the new queen bee will undergo a fight to the death with her rivals for control of the hive. The first larvae to emerge from an egg tends to be the largest at this time and they are usually the winner of this deadly contest.


The new queen will kill the previous queen and then tear at the other queen cells to kill the other larvae. Any surviving queens or those from other hives may be encountered on her first flight and she will attempt to kill those rivals too.


4.    The First Flight of the Queen Bee


Approximately one week after the larvae emerge from the cell, the queen will leave the hive to look for mates. She will hover in one area to attract male bees (drones) from other bee colonies. At this time, she will mate with 10-20 drones and most mating’s will be unsuccessful.


There may be two or three mating flights in total and after this mating period, the queen bee will hold around 6 million sperm in her oviducts. Throughout her life, this sperm will be used to fertilize her eggs and she will never seek a mate again.


5.    Egg Laying by the Queen Bee


The queen will continue to eat a diet of honey and royal jelly to stay fit and healthy. She will lay 1,000 to 1,500 eggs per day which is around 200,000 annually.


The worker bees will feed the queen, distribute her hormones throughout the colony to prevent queen cell production, and remove her waste.


The queen is the absolute controller of the hive population because she can lay unfertilized male or fertilized female eggs. Any small female bees that are born during her reign simply become worker bees.


The workers collect the honey to feed the hive and carry out general maintenance as needed. If the colony becomes too large, the queen bee may leave with a swarm to form a new colony.


6.    Life Cycle and Lifespan of the Queen Bee


A queen bee can live 2-5 years and if the colony becomes too big, she may leave with around half of the hive population to establish a new colony. If this doesn’t occur, she will gradually weaken due to old age and her egg production will decrease.


When the worker bees notice this weakness, they will work on building new queen cups to find the next queen. Eventually, she will be killed by a new queen and the entire cycle will begin again.


If a queen bee is killed accidentally by a beekeeper, there will be a period of unrest within the colony as the workers work to raise a new queen to take control.


The Role of a Queen Bee in Hive


Queen Bee with Worker Bees
Queen Bee with Worker Bees

A honey bee queen is approximately twice the size of a typical drone or worker bee. She is the only female in the hive with fully developed ovaries to lay fertilized or non-fertilized eggs.


As the queen, her main duties are to lay a lot of eggs to secure the future of the colony and to produce chemical scents to keep the colony calm and unified.

Threats to Queen Bees


At this time, there are seven main threats to long-term bee colony survival. They are:

  • Poor genetic diversity,
  • Invasive plants.
  • Invasive bee species.
  • Pathogens from commercial bee populations.
  • Habitat loss.
  • Climate change.

Conclusion- Queen Bee in Hive


Now that you have a better understanding of queen bee facts, it’s natural to consider helping them. After all, healthy bees in your garden will boost pollination which will increase flowering plant growth. The primary source of food for bees and other pollinators is nectar which can be provided with local native flowering plants.


If you focus on growing native plants they won’t need fertilizers, pesticides, or extra irrigation. Consider adding some nesting spots in hollow stems, stone walls, storage sheds, and brush piles. Some ground nesting species prefer loose disturbed soil and others may like nesting straws or holes drilled in wooden blocks.


If you need to use pesticides, switch to an organic insecticide, fungicide, or herbicide and use them sparingly. When you apply an organic pesticide, spray early or late in the day to limit the risk to bees that are actively foraging at other times.


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