What Beekeepers Should Know About Queen Bees
Everyone knows that the honeybee queen is the most iconic element of a hive. The queen is the only egg-laying female, and she takes sole liability for the colony’s procreation. She also carries a distinctive smell that maintains a hold on the other members of the hive. Yet, she is not an all-powerful ruler. Considerably, most of the queen’s actions and well-being depend on the activities of the hive’s worker bees. As a beekeeper, I, Matthew Davies, know you must comprehend the responsibilities of every member of your colonies, and the queen bee is the ideal place to begin. From the egg to the end of her life, here is what beekeepers ought to know about queen bees.
How the Queen Is Made
Whenever a honeybee colony loses its queen, the worker bees take steps to produce a new one right away. Worker bees will construct numerous dome-shaped wax cells—known as queen cups—to shelter a few selected fertilized (female) eggs. Nurse bees then feed these special eggs a distinctive diet. While the other members of the hive’s brood will ultimately switch from royal jelly to bee bread, the prospective queens dine on royal jelly their entire lives. This royal diet triggers the queen to develop in a different way than her sisters. She has an extended body, more established ovaries, and a smooth stinger that, unlike the barbed stingers of her worker bees, she can use numerous times.
After a few days, the queen emerges from her queen cell to join the hive. Remember, the worker bees chose more than one egg in an attempt to gain a queen. To take her place on the symbolic throne, the recently hatched queen must use her reusable stinger to kill the other potential queens. The last queen standing will assume her rightful place on the throne. However, there are a few royal duties she must attend to first.
The Mating Flight
A freshly hatched queen bee is known as a virgin queen. To assume her reproductive duties, she must first mate with drones from other hives. This process is called the mating flight. The queen will leave her hive to seek out suitable drones in which to mate. In the meantime, drones from surrounding hives will gather and wait for a queen. Thousands of drones will wait for the opportunity to mate with the freshly minted queen. Upon arrival, the queen will select several mates and then return to the hive. The sperm she gathered from her mating flight will allow her to fertilize eggs for the duration of her life. After returning home, she will begin laying eggs until the day she dies.
Her Royal Duties
The egg-laying process is unique in honeybees. The queen will move from cell to cell, depositing her eggs one at a time. Each egg is carefully selected for its location. The object of and reason for egg selection is to produce a well-rounded brood. Only the best sperm is selected to make the hive stronger with each generation.
In addition to laying eggs and placing them throughout the hive, it is the responsibility of the queen to continue to produce a pheromone that can be smelled by her nearby worker bees. The scent provided ensures the hive that the queen is alive and well. Once the smell is gone, the process starts all over again.
How to Care for Your Queen
Because honeybee queens are so vital to the health of your colony, you must keep an eye on them. Place a small dot of paint on your queen so that you can quickly locate her inside the hive. Each time you conduct a hive inspection, you will want to ensure your queen is still alive and healthy. Another way to check on her is to look at the hive’s egg cells. If each cell has an egg in it, this tells you that she is healthy and still reproducing. Conversely, if you find multiple eggs in each cell, it means your queen is dead, and the worker bees have begun the process of replacing her.
Re-Queening Your Hive
There are two theories to replacing the queen. On the one hand, you could let the hive do what nature has taught them to do. On the other hand, you can order a queen. It is my recommendation that you wait to see if the hive can do it the natural way. The only two times I suggest ordering a queen is when the colony cannot adequately produce one and when you are just starting. In all other instances, it is best to let the bees do their thing.
Bringing in a queen bee may sound like a good idea. However, since the hive did not produce the bee, they may reject the queen. They will continue to attempt to provide a queen. If they can’t, the hive will break up and seek out another colony. You will be left with a queen and waiting on another set of bees to replace the drones that left.
As a last-ditch effort to keep the brood together, you can introduce a queen excluder to the hive. This will prevent any potential queens from killing the newly introduced queen. She will produce her pheromones, and in time they may accept her. This is why I don’t recommend buying a queen. You will have to go through a lot of work on top of the hefty price you paid for her.
Beekeeping is an exciting hobby. You need to have a wealth of information on how to care for your bees. I, Matthew Davies, feel that the best place to start is with the queen. If you understand the queen, then the other parts of the hive will be a piece of cake. There are many different parts to the colony, and over the next several blogs, I will introduce you to those parts. In the end, you should be ready to start your hive.