Bees have a complex social order, with the queen as the head of the colony. She plays a vital part in its survival, marshaling the troops and ensuring the hive thrives.
This guide explores the role of the queen bee so that beginner beekeepers understand her importance to the colony.
What’s the queen bee’s role in a colony?
The queen bee is the head of the colony and is responsible for laying eggs, feeding larvae, and regulating the hive’s activities. She can lay up to 2000 eggs a day during peak season. Her primary function is to produce new bees, so she must remain healthy and productive.
Does the queen control the colony?
The colony has a life of its own, and the queen bee is just one small part. While her presence is essential, the worker bees take charge of much of the decision-making. They are the ‘power behind the throne.’
Worker bees can raise a new queen or kill an existing one if it benefits the hive. The queen is expendable, so she must work hard to keep the workers happy.
Are you interested in learning how bees communicate? Check out this article on what a bee’s antennae do.
How to identify the queen bee
The queen bee is the largest in her colony and is typically identified by size. Look for a long, thin body that measures roughly 20mm in length. She is usually surrounded by drones (male bees) at the center of the hive.
Unlike those on other bees, her stinger is smooth, but she doesn’t sting unless necessary.
If you’d like to learn more, check out our article on what a queen bee looks like.
Why are queen bees replaced?
As hive numbers grow, the colony becomes crowded and swarms. The queen bee leaves the hive to find a new home, but not without first making some extra queens. The queen’s attendants stop feeding her and prepare for flight time by creating queen cups ready to produce new females.
To learn more about this topic, check out our article on what is a queen cup?
What are the queen bee’s attendants called?
The queen bee’s attendants, or ‘retinue,’ are young worker bees who attend to the queen’s every need. They act as a link between the queen and the workers. The retinue is vital to the hive’s health, and the members are usually easy to locate, facing her in a circle.
The retinue ensures the queen stays healthy and productive by constantly grooming and feeding her. They are also responsible for passing new information from the workers to the queen. This communication is crucial for keeping the hive running smoothly.
Can queen bees fly?
A queen been is capable of flying, like drones and worker bees. After her reigning time has concluded in the hive, a swarm of bees follows behind as she leaves. Called “swarm founding,” the bees take off as a colony begins reproducing. This activity is the rare moment you will see a queen bee in flight. The only other instance is when she is mating within the hive.
How does one become a queen bee?
The life of a honey bee queen is a challenging one. After her swarm leaves, the first queen to hatch makes up the next generation. She may either be chosen as a replacement for retiring queens or become a founder, swarming away to another home.
Most queens decide to stay put and take up the legacy of royalty. The firstborn queen often kills the yet-to-be sister queens through a stinger in their cell. Even more brutal, if two queens hatch at once, they will fight to the death.
To learn more, check out our article on how a bee becomes a queen bee.
How does the queen bee lay eggs?
A queen bee can produce more than 2000 eggs per day. She lays them into specially-made wax cells and then caps them with more wax. It’s an impressive feat considering a worker bee will only lay around 120-200 eggs in her lifetime.
Do queen bees mate with drones in the hive?
A drone is a male bee that cannot sting because it doesn’t have a functional ovipositor. Drones are haploid, meaning they have one set of chromosomes instead of two like other bees. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen bee before dying from having their appendage ripped out. Find out about where drones and queens mate here.
How long does a queen bee live?
Queen bees can last up to five years; however, the average lifespan is around two years. Their life expectancy depends on several factors, such as their health, diet, and environment.
One unique thing about queen bees is they can delay their aging process by hibernating if food becomes scarce or the weather turns cold.
Do queen bees make decisions about hive build-up?
The queen bee is like a general in the colony. She doesn’t decide how many bees there should be or what they do with their time. Instead, she relies on her army of workers to handle these tasks.
Queens can only lay eggs when workers have built enough comb and cleaned out cells. Even then, the worker makes most decisions about population density.
What happens to a queen without workers?
The queen’s primary purpose is laying eggs; she also depends on other bees to macerate food and feed her. If a colony has no workers, it will soon die.