The Honey Bee Queen
Every schoolboy knows that there is only ever one honey bee queen in a hive, or colony. (Click here to go to The Universal Bee Disclaimer) For the moment we'll assume this is true.
The queen controls pretty much everything in the hive. She produces pheromones which are used to promote, inhibit and manipulate all activities.
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Just before the old-queen leaves with the swarm she sometimes emits a sound to communicate with the hive and let them know she is preparing to swarm. Click here to hear the sound, called queen-piping, you ay need to turn up the volume, it is quite quiet.
Hatching from any fertilized egg, three days after it's laid, the queen honeybee larva is exactly the same as any worker at this stage. The difference is only in the way the larva is fed. Instead of being weaned onto pollen and nectar bee bread. The pretender to the throne has a diet entirely of royal jelly.
I find it utterly amazing that a different diet produces a result so different from a worker bee. A new queen can be created from any newly laid fertilized egg. This is another of the honey bee's incredible survival traits.
By the time a new virgin queen bee emerges from her cell and is accepted by the worker bees, the old queen has already left with a large proportion of the worker bees, a swarm.
If there are other virgin honey bee queens in the hive, or cells containing pupating queens these must first be destroyed. Often queens fight in this situation, their non-barbed stinger is used only for fighting competing queens. The workers may tear down the elongated queen cells which have not yet hatched leaving only one queen to 'rule' the colony.
Before she can start to do her most important task, laying eggs, the virgin queen must leave the hive to mate. She does this in flight, usually with between 10 and 12 males bees, drones. She may make several mating flights within the first week or two of her life. If for any reason she is unable to this, because of bad weather for example, it can put the whole future of the colony in jeopardy.
Since the honey bee queen influences almost all aspects of the hive, beekeepers often requeen their colonies to improve some characteristics such as honey production or temperament. Beekeeping queen rearing is a highly skilled and specialized process. Rather than raising their own queens, it's common to go to someone offering queen bees for sale to try ensure that a there is a new injection of desirable genes into the apiary.
Find out how to find the Queen!