How Does A Bee Become A Queen?

Queen cells on a beehive

The queen bee plays a vital role in the hive, busily laying eggs daily 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 in each hive.

But how does a bee become a queen? This guide explains the process from birth through to death.

How do bees become a Queen?

When hives need a new queen, nurse bees select 10-20 female larvae that have recently hatched. These newly-hatched insects are fed royal jelly, secreted as a white substance from the nurse bees. This special diet activates the larva’s reproductive system, creating 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, the eggs are chosen randomly. However, there may be more to this selection process than we think, so further research is needed.

How is the queen bee chosen from the matured larvae?

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

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

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 is 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 secreted from a honey bee’s hypopharynx glands. It nourishes larvae and adult queen bees. Royal jelly is nutritious 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 to feed potential queen bees and remove the queen’s bodily waste. They also tend to the other developing bees in the brood.

Where do queen bees live during development?

Queen cells are comb cells that 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 before chewing through the cell with assistance from the workers.

What happens after the queen is chosen?

Once a single queen remains in the colony, she commences a once-off mating flight with male drones. A single flight allows her to lay fertilized eggs for up to five years.

After mating, the queen bee will return to the hive 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 and start 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 select eggs or larvae to nurture into a new queen bee.

How does the queen bee lay eggs?

A queen bee lays around 1,500 eggs daily, building up to spring. She lays an unfertilized male or fertilized female egg based on the cell’s width. 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 four weeks for a queen to start laying eggs when she emerges from her cell. She must fully mature and mate before beginning to lay.

Summing up

While any female egg laid by the queen bee can become a queen bee, most will become worker bees. An egg can only transform into a queen bee if nurse bees feed royal jelly to the larvae.

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


– Queen rearing (1962). By H Laidlaw and J Eckert. University Press, Berkly, California, USA.

– The hive and the honey bee (1992). Edited by J Graham. Published by Dadant and Sons, Hamilton, Illinois, USA.

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