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How Does A Bee Become A Queen?

Queen cells on a beehive

The queen bee plays an important role in the hive, busily laying eggs every day that produce drones and worker bees. With an average of 30-80 thousand bees in a colony, it’s fascinating that there is only one queen. If you’re wondering how does a bee becomes a queen, then keep reading. We’ve created a guide to explain the entire process, from birth through to death.

How do bees become a Queen?

When a hive is ready for a new queen, nurse bees select 10-20 female larvae that have just hatched. Each of these newly-hatched insects will be fed royal jelly, secreted as a white substance from the nurse bees. This special diet activates the larva’s reproductive system, resulting in a fertile queen bee.

How do nurse bees choose the eggs for a new queen?

When the hive needs a new queen, the nurse bees choose up to 20 fertilized eggs as potential queens. Rather than a rigorous screening process, it appears that the eggs are chosen randomly. However, there may be a lot more to this selection process than we think, it’s just that researchers haven’t discovered it yet. 

How is the queen bee chosen from the matured larvae?

Nurse bees feed the larvae royal jelly in their own separate cells until they mature into bees. The first larvae to mature will be the queen bee.

Her first job is to eliminate the threat from the other potential queen bees, by killing them all. She does this by calling out to the larvae and developing queens using a high-pitched chirp. Once located, she then thrusts her stinger through each of her competitors.

In some cases, another queen may fight back. The winner will be crowned the new queen bee for the colony.    

Why do worker bees raise a new queen?

When a honeybee colony decides to raise a new queen, it’s often because the queen is preparing to swarm or in ill health. Around this time, queen pheromone levels will reduce, triggering the process of finding a new queen.

What is royal jelly?

Royal jelly is a milky white substance that’s secreted from a honey bee’s hypopharynx glands. It is produced to nourish larvae and adult queen bees. Royal jelly is packed with nutritional goodness for bees and is high in protein, fatty acids, simple sugars, trace minerals, and B vitamins. It is also a good source of antibacterial components.   

Royal jelly in honeycomb on an isolated white background.
A closeup of royal jelly in honeycomb.

What is the role of the nurse bee?

A nurse bee’s job is primarily to feed potential queen bees. It is also tasked with removing the queen’s bodily waste.

Where do queen bees live during development?

Queen cells are a type of honeycomb cell that is used to house each queen bee during development. As the queen bee larva begins to pupate into a bee, the worker bees will cover over the top of the cell. It takes 15 days for the queen to fully develop and she then chews through the cell with assistance from the workers.

What happens after the queen is chosen?

Once any battling is over and one queen remains, she commences a once-off mating flight with male drones. A single flight will allow her to lay fertilized eggs for up to five years.

The queen bee will return to the hive after mating and kill the old queen if she is still there. Often, the previous queen will have already left with her own swarm. If this occurs, the new queen will replace the old one laying eggs.  

What happens if you kill a queen bee?

Worker bees will usually notice their queen bee is gone within a few hours as the pheromone levels begin to drop. They will quickly become stressed and begin selecting eggs or larva to nurture into a new queen bee.

How does the queen bee lay eggs?

A queen bee lays around 1,500 eggs per day building up to spring. She lays an unfertilized male egg or a fertilized female egg based on the width of the cell. A drone requires a much larger cell than a worker bee. To fertilize eggs, the queen bee releases sperm from her spermatheca.

How long does it take for a queen bee to start laying eggs?

It takes at least 4 weeks for a queen to start laying eggs from the time she emerges from her cell. She needs to fully mature and then mate, before starting to lay.

Summing up

Any female egg laid by the queen bee has the potential to become a queen bee. The vast majority of eggs will become worker bees. The only way an egg can transform into a queen bee is if nurse bees feed the larvae royal jelly.

Even if a queen bee hatches, that doesn’t guarantee survival. The first to metamorphosize into a queen, will set out to kill and remaining queen bees.

If you’d like to learn more about the queen bee, then check out our guide on what queen bees look like.

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