The Birds and the Bees of Honeybees

It’s spring, thus I offer this very simple, very shortened summary of a queen’s life…

When you buy a nuc or a package, the queen is already running the show, but if that queen dies or a colony swarms, the bees find themselves needing to make a new queen.  They do this in peanut-shaped cells called “queen cells.”  (Photo from BeekeepingStuff.com)

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It is not uncommon for a hive to create several queen cells. If more than one hatches at the same time, they fight to the death. The winner, of course, then declares her queendom.

  1. Newly hatched queens actually make what is called a “piping” sound. You can actually hear some examples of this HERE.
  1. The new queen must then leave the hive for a mating flight. It is while she’s on this flight that she will mate with many drones (male bees). These could be drones from your own hive, a neighbor’s hive, or feral bees. This also means your queen might be gobbled up by a bird or smashed on the windshield of a car if she’s not careful! The sperm she receives will last her for the rest of her life. The mating takes place 20-30 feet in the air and might be the only time the queen ever leaves the hive.

Here’s a clip from the documentary More than Honey that actually shows a mating flight.

4. When the queen returns home from her “night on the town,” she then begins laying eggs. She will pretty much spend the rest of her life doing this. Depending on the queen and the season, she can lay up to 1500 eggs per day! Eventually she will run out of sperm (and also her important queen pheromone) and this will signal the colony to begin to create new queen cells. Thus the process will start again. As a fun fact, if the new queen hatches and the old one is still alive, the bees in the colony may attack the old queen stinging and killing her.  It is also possible to have a hive that runs smoothly with two queens for a period. Typically, in that case, one of the queens will leave and take her swarm with her.

A queen can be identified by her long, brown abdomen. Typically she’ll move with her legs splayed out and the bees around her will usually turn to face her as she moves through.  She is generally surrounded by an entourage as you see in this picture my husband snapped last summer of our queen. The queen has a green dot on her back, but she’s being guarded by a worker.

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Here’s a clearer picture of a queen from CatskillMountaineer.com (the queen is in the middle)

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One thought on “The Birds and the Bees of Honeybees

  1. Very nice post! I have only ever heard a queen piping in a couple of hives but it is quite special. It really makes you take notice and the effect on the bees must be incredible.

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