6 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT QUEEN BEES

Posted January 4, 2016
by Hilary

Queen Bee

 

As the sole bee in her caste, the queen bee is an illustrious member of the beehive. She is not only unique among her colony’s population, she is vital to maintaining that population. A queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day! Although egg laying is her main gig, the queen has many other qualities that may surprise you. Read on to find out more about this all-important bee. 

Queen Bees Are Not Rulers 

It is often assumed that the queen bee manages the hive like a monarch would, ordering worker bees about. While she does have some influence over the behaviors of the worker bees, the beehive is actually closer to a democratic system. Much of the hive’s daily tasks and functions are controlled by pheromones and other chemical signals that appear to happen instinctively. When a conscious decision is made, like a swarm’s choice of nesting site, the worker bees decide by voting!

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Queens Only Have Sex Once in their Life

Most insects live short lives, but you may be surprised to know that a queen bee can live two to seven years! Her lifespan typically depends on how many males she mates with. A queen mates only once in her life and stores the sperm she collects in a special organ which she draws from to lay eggs for the rest of her life. Queens mate in the air with as many drones as possible. So, technically she does have sex multiple times over the course of a day or two, but she only mates for this one period in her life. A colony with a well mated queen will thrive, but over the years this queen may begin to run out of genetic material. Once she runs out, she cannot mate again. She is simply replaced by either the beekeeper or the bees themselves. Most queens lay well for about 3 years.

 

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 All Fertilized Eggs Are Created Equal

Worker bees replace old or dysfunctional queens by making a new queen from their old queen’s egg. When a queen lays an egg she can lay either an unfertilized or a fertilized egg. Unfertilized eggs are destined to become drones (male bees), but a fertilized egg has the potential to become either a worker bee or a queen bee. The egg’s fate is decided by it’s diet. Both worker bee larvae  and queen bee larvae are fed royal jelly for the first few days. On day 4, worker larvae is switched to a diet of honey and pollen while the queen bee larvae continues to be fed royal jelly throughout her development.

 

 A Royal Deathmatch

When workers make a new queen, they often make more than one. This gives them the best chance at raising a strong, viable queen. However, there can (typically) only be one queen bee in a hive, so when the new queens hatch they must kill their competitors. A newly hatched queen will sting her unhatched rivals, killing them while they are still in their cells. If two queens hatch at once, they must fight to the death.

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 Stingers Bring Death & Life

The stinger of a worker bee and a queen bee is actually a modified ovipositor (an organ used to lay and position eggs). This means that only the female members of the hive (workers and the queen) are able to sting and they use this same apparatus to lay eggs, while the males cannot. Although worker bees and queens and both sting and lay eggs, they each function a little differently. A worker’s stinger is barbed and when they sting, the stinger becomes lodged in skin of their victim. When the worker flies away, the stinger stays put and a pumping venom sac with it. The worker bee will die after several minutes from her injuries, but she will have inflicted maximum damage to her target. In contrast a queen’s stinger is smooth and can be used multiple times, but a queen uses it exclusively to battle other queens.

 

Royal Indigestion

A queen is constantly attended to by a “court” of worker bees. These workers feed and groom her. They also carry away her waste and actually digest her food for her. Without the constant care of her attendants, the queen would die. She even relies on them to digest her food. Queens do not have the same glands workers use to digest their food, so her food is predigested and then fed to her.

 

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 Queen Bees Crash Diet

A queen bee is entirely at the mercy of her attendants for food and at certain times of year, workers will actually put their queen on a diet! In the spring, large colonies divide in two as a means of propagating the species. This process is called swarming. Roughly half the colony, as well as the queen, leaves the hive and sets out to start a new colony. The remaining bees make a new queen and continue on. Swarming is risky business and takes weeks of planning. One of the challenges is that the queen, who almost never leaves the hive, must fly a great distance to make the new home (typically over 800ft from the original nesting site). Queen bees are poor fliers because of their size and weight so to remedy this worker bees will restrict their queen’s food intake prior to swarming. The queen must loose 1/3 of her normal body weight in order to fly!

 

 Want to Learn Even More?

Check out my new book Queenspotting! The book chronicles the fascinating life of the queen bee, includes entertaining stories from my beekeeping adventures and 48 fold-out Queenspotting images that will challenge you to find the queen. Note: You can support me best as an author and beekeeper by ordering directly from my website.  

Queenspotting Book

 

68 Comments

  1. Bear Hamlin

    Thank you so much for your clear and enthusiastic blogging Hilary…you’re very helpful to me as a hesitant and unsure beginner bee steward! Each post teaches me something new, and it helps supplement what I am learning in Bee school.

    Reply
    • Deb

      So Interesting. Thank you! From the U.P.

      Reply
      • Jonathan Smith

        Well, I have always wondered about this. Was studying about the swarm in the carcase of the lion Samson had killed. I had wrongly thought it was a new queen leaving an old hive, but this makes more sense. Thank you. Have often thought about learning how to become a bee keeper,

        Reply
    • Rosemary Gravestock

      I too thank you Hilary, and agree entirely with the above post , so informative and well written. I’ve been keeping bees for 12 years now, they turned up en mass as they do I to my compost bin 1/4 “ gap in the lid and enough space, I felt privileged they chose my garden and asked a beekeeper to start me off, I’ve since made all my hives and nuc’s etc, it’s a none profit hobby, I’m still learning and loving my bees.

      Reply
    • Franklin

      Hello
      I have a colony of bees living inside the wall of my house for the past 4 years. Is there a way i can remove them if i place a bee hive box next to the small hole where they enter into the wall will they go into the box.I dont want to destroy them .

      Reply
      • Hilary

        You’ll need to hire an experienced live bee removal person to remove them. They will need to cut into your wall. Unfortunately, the bees will not move on their own.

        Reply
  2. Emily Scott

    Hearing the piping of a new queen bee is very special. The effect of the vibrations of her piping for the bees standing on the combs must be mesmerising. I’ve read that the workers will sometimes keep reserve queens imprisoned in their cells until they are sure the hatched queen has successfully mated.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Whoa that’s cool! I hadn’t heard that before.

      Reply
      • V

        I think one time when I was inspecting my hive the Queen tried to sting me…is that usual?

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Usually it only happens if you were handling another queen prior to and you still had that other queen’s scent on you.

          Reply
          • V

            I only have one hive

          • Stephen

            I am a high school biology teacher in Ghana. And I find this article very very useful. Thank you. I shall be following you going forward.

        • jaht tafari

          I did not know that queen bees born with sting

          Reply
        • Doris Rascher

          What color is a queen bee? My 5 yr old granddaughter says it is green. I don’t know why she thinks that.

          Reply
          • Hilary

            Queens are the same color as other honey bees. They range from gold to auburn to black, but do not stray from the brown/golden tones. That said, beekeepers sometimes mark the back of their queens with bright paint and green is one of the colors used.

    • Jessica ulrich

      We learned alot about bees great learning actical..

      Reply
    • Ashlynne

      just WOAH that’s all I can say

      Reply
  3. Viv

    I’m glad to hear someone else hears buzzing even when they’re done with beekeeping for the day. I wonder why that happens?

    Reply
  4. Rock

    Interesting, except for one very huge mistake, worker bees do NOT die after stinging, unless of course, they die from being slapped to death. I do Apitherapy, and when I started about 1in 8 died, after 10 years, I got to the point where less than 1 in 50 died from stinging. The bees that sting, lose the stinger, but do not die, live the same lifespan as those that have not stung, and are welcomed back into the hive even without the stinger. There are hundreds of Apitherapists with the same experiences. Frederique Keller, President of the prestigious American Apitherapy Society (Apitherapy.org) uses beestings with accupuncture on patients several times a day and sees the stingerless bees days later going from flower to flower. Just because tens of millions of people believe something does NOT make it fact. False things do not become fact until they are posted on FaceBook or on the Internet.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Interesting. Do you know if anyone has studied this? I know that bees don’t die immediately after stinging. I would not be surprised to hear that they could live for several days. It would be fascinating to test this. You could mark bees that have stung with paint and then see if you find them in the hive and document how many days. Where are you finding the information that they can have the same lifespan as those who did not sting? How can one be sure that the bees observed on the flowers are THE bees that stung? Do you have any links to share?

      Reply
      • Zack

        A bee can sting and go on living only if the sting is not deep enough for the barb to get stuck in the victim (which rips the stinger out of the bee thereby fatally wounding them). Sometimes a bee will sting a human but not deep enough to leave the stinger behind (such as through a bee suit or clothing).

        Reply
  5. Dave Grant

    Hi Hillary, thanks for such and interesting post and a great blog. Lots of people here follow your blog. Thanks Dave – Auckland, New Zealand

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Thanks, Dave! 🙂

      Reply
      • Bradford Seaman

        I’m an interested beekeeper always wanting to learn more from experienced beekeepers

        Reply
      • Karen Wiesman

        In early Septemnee I was standing outside on our blacktop when i turned and saw this thing coming toward me. At first I thought it was a hummingbird moth.as it came closer to was flying about the height of my waist I could see it was a much bigger bee being bred by a smaller bee.Then it fell to the blacktop and I slowly walked toward it and then they got up together and slowly flew away. So what did I see. It was awesome. I figured it was a queen bee with a worker bee, but don’t know.

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Really hard to say!

          Reply
  6. Nichole

    This is great info, thank you! I am just starting out and I love learning about these tiny creatures. I’m so glad I found your site! I was born and raised in SD too but now live in Colorado. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Glad you are enjoying the blog 🙂

      Reply
  7. David MacKay

    Hi Hillary, very happy to have found you and your blog. First of all, thank you for your generosity in sharing your time and knowledge. I’m living in Nicaragua and just about to start bee keeping with Africanized bees as a total newbie. Fortunately I’ll have a partner and a mentor to keep me sane. Really looking forward to following your blogs and also reading the feedback from your subscribers. Thanks again, David

    Reply
  8. Thomas Dekoker

    Long live the honey bee, unless it stings.

    Reply
  9. Martha Mackey

    For a number of years we’ve had feral honeybees in our attic. We can hear them when things are in flux. I’ve heard a queen piping. Pre-swarm, the loud buzzing of the hive can be heard in the house. Recently I heard a strange sound: it was the hive buzzing but loud and changing pitch like a howling wind. A thunderstorm came through and they quieted down. After several days I notice their numbers are down.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      How interesting!

      Reply
    • tammyatchison7@mgail.com

      I have a swarm in my roof. Why are there two types it seems? There are small regular looking ones and these large furry guys. They are attracted to my lamp at night and are coming through the ceiling!

      Reply
  10. ankur shrivastava

    Hi was elated to know such complex orientation in a bee’s life.Came down here after saw a random video on youtube showing acceptance/rejection of queen bee by workers.

    Reply
  11. Penelope Bartlau

    This is such great info – thanks Hilary. Question: I re-queened, but I simply could not find the old queen. I thorughly checked twice. The hive is quite weak (swarmed in Spring) but staving off wax moth and hive beetle at this stage thankfully.

    I put her new Majesty in a week ago. In the hive, there does not as yet appear to be any new brood. There were drone cells last week – and these are still there/hatching. There were two new fertilised queen cells, and one queen cell built additionally. I got rid of these three. There’s enough honey to feed the bees, and also plenty of pollen collection.

    I only have one hive at the moment so I can’t take brood from a 2nd hive (I did try catching a wild hive, but they swarmed and I can’t locate them…).

    In your experience, how long should it be before brood starts to appear, should the new queen have been introduced successfully?

    Thanks for such a great blog! You are making a real difference across the globe.
    Cheerio from a sweltering rural Victoria, Australia.

    Penelope

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Usually, a newly installed queen would start laying eggs in the first week, but I have heard of it taking longer.

      Reply
      • Shane

        A newly hatched queen may not mate for up to two weeks or so – so after putting in a new queen it is worth checking for eggs / new brood cells after three weeks – gives her plenty of time to mate, lay eggs and get started.

        Reply
    • Hilary

      Yes, she has a stinger.

      Reply
      • Deni

        Hey a queen bee got into my house. There is a hive in the wall of an outbuilding out back. I don’t know if she belongs to them but she came through the attic. What should I do with her? Just get her outside?

        Reply
        • Hilary

          It would be very unusual for a queen to leave her hive and end up alone. My guess is that it’s not a queen bee, but either way just release it outside.

          Reply
  12. Joseph Kamiri

    my names are joseph kamiri from kenya nakuru county. my thinking is that worker bees after stinging develop a big wound where the bee sting come from hence die soon or later after stinging from the wound. is this a fact or a myth?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Worker bees die after stinging, yes.

      Reply
  13. Hollie Seabolt

    My husband captured, safely, a queen: we have her in a new hive: When will the other bees come to find her? We are new.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Hollie, that’s not how it works. You cannot start a colony by capturing just a queen and waiting for the rest of the bees to come. You have to get a queen AND a group of worker bees to start a colony. I suspect you have mistaken another insect or perhaps a honey bee drone for a queen bee. I encourage you to check out my online class https://vimeo.com/ondemand/gndhoney

      Reply
      • Tony White

        I am interested in the online class but I am like some of the other posters I am learning about. I’m not sure that one run through it will suffice. My question is…Upon Purchase of the class if I should want to refresh on what I have learned or try to better understand what the class is trying to teach is there full and Unlimited access to the video or is is time limited or view limited?

        Reply
        • Hilary

          Hi Tony, Once you purchase the class you can watch it as many times as you need to. You should be able to stream any time you are logged into your Vimeo account.

          Reply
  14. afrozenshoulder

    This is aimed at ROCK – thanks for your comment about honey bees not always dying when they sting – I’d read everything possible about bees and thought it was a fact – they sting you, pull away, their barbed stinger stays behind and some of the bee’s abdomen etc., so naturally she dies – but then I saw your comment and at first I thought nah…. cant be! How can EVERY source on the internet and in the library be wrong??? It’s a FACT! Honey Bees die after stinging a person! But you put doubt into my certainty (which is always a good thing when I can learn something new). So I did more research. Then I saw this youtube video and I’m flabbergasted – you were absolutely correct – that is incredible news!!!! THANK YOU FOR MENTIONING IT!!! Most often they do die because someone kills them while they’re stinging you and yes I’m sure sometimes they DO fly away leaving part of their abdomen behind – but apparently if you give them a little bit of time, they can work their stinger free – THANK YOU THANK YOU ROCK! And to all those people who are angry if they get stung…. this is just a bee defending her hive – the way you would defend your home if you felt someone was threatening you – it’s just nature – she’s not being spiteful or nasty, she’s just defending her hive and she feels threatened – look at how big you are and how tiny she is – imagine if you were up against a creature thousands of times bigger than you that was right outside your house and you didn’t know what its intentions wer e- wouldn’t YOU want to defend your house and protect your family? So don’t be angry, just accept it’s part of nature and just a bee trying to survive another day. AND WATCH THIS YOUTUBE VIDEO PLEASE!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-C77ujnLZo

    Reply
  15. Jared Gulian

    Great article. I found it via a Google search for ‘queen bee anatomy how do queen bees sting and lay eggs’. But I still have a question. How is it that the same apparatus is used for both? Surely the queen’s egg is bigger in diameter than the stinger, right?. The egg doesn’t travel down the stinger, does it? BTW I just bought the ‘Queenspotting’ book via Book Depository. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Jared, the stinger is no longer used to lay eggs. It was originally an egg laying organ, but it evolved into a defensive stinger. There is a separate organ now for egg laying. I hope you enjoy learning even more in my book!

      Reply
  16. peter

    I had that bees only die when they sting mammals because their sting remains in. But if they sting other insects, they get away with it

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Yes, I believe that is generally true. Although I have seen a worker bee sting another worker bee and lose her stinger doing it.

      Reply
  17. Jen Dauphinais

    Thank you so much for your blog. Years ago I read numerous books on bee keeping. My goal was to start bee keeping myself. Unfortunately my husband had a mid life crisis and went back into the Army. Now retired we are looking for a house where I can make my dream come true.
    It was a great blog about the queen bee!

    Reply
  18. Bill

    ?I just bought abee nucleus ,and realize it was infected with beetle larvaes .They bored the brood killing the bees larvaes . is there any way to eliminate this beetle larvaes to get relax to the colony?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I would talk to the person who sold you the nuc. It’s very irresponsible to sell colonies that are struggling with beetles like what you have described. I do not have a big beetle issue in my climate, but there are various methods for making traps. Try searching for the term “beetle trap”.

      Reply
  19. TeeCee

    At the age of seven I was stung in the palm of my hand by a honeybee, up on escaping the stinger was pulled out and so were the intrals of the lower end of the bee. The bee did die and I went to a doctor with a severely swollen hand and he said that for 30 to 45 minutes the stinger can still pulsate and inject into you. Didn’t know that but don’t want stung again. I do love our honey bees and wish there was a way to stop the Asian killer hornets from attacking them. This will probably wipe out an already decreased amount of honeybees. I read that the Asian killer hornets will wipe out large numbers of our honey bees bumblebees fire flies and other insects that are detrimental to life.

    Reply
  20. Brian Brady

    Great site, although i have doubts regarding the “lost stinger survivor” comments. A 1:50 death rate is amazingly low, at least in my experience in Western Canada …over 20 years a beekeeper and almost never get stung these days, but have never ever found a stingerless bee in my hives.

    all the best with your site

    Brady’s Bees , Yellowstone, Alberta

    Reply
  21. David

    Thank you for an incredibly informative website. This year was to be my first year keeping bees … alas, Dadant took my money, but failed to deliver on the frames and suit for 6 weeks … and as I’m sure you know, now is far too late this year to find bees.
    So I’m spending my time doing more research, and your site is a goldmine!
    Thank you!

    Reply
  22. Kate

    Hi
    I have rescued a queen bee from my garden. She only has 1 wing. Shes been with me for 2 months now and seems to be thriving. I have made an open top garden in a storage box, shes in my kitchen and i often put her outside when the weather is nice. she has manuka honey and various flowers (she particularly loves dandelions). My question is, will she be feeling lonely? And can she continue to survive on the diet I offer her? I always have water in there also…. i love her to bits 🙂

    Reply
    • Hilary

      If she has survived this long then whatever you are doing is working.

      Reply
  23. Alessandra

    Thank you for this great insight. I live in Italy and a swarm of honeybees came to our garden this morning.

    Reply
  24. Susan

    Other than flying does a queen move or walk any. A guy at work claims they walk and waggle but I argue their food is brought to them and their waste is carried off so I’m pretty sure the queen doesn’t waggle dance or walk.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      She does not dance that I know of, she does walk around a lot because she has to move from cell to cell to lay her eggs.

      Reply
  25. Feljun Pineda

    I just asked Google and wondered why is it that bees have only one queen bee?
    Then Google suggests me this blog which I interestingly read, what I mean is the whole blog instead looking for an answer on my random thoughts. I felt that I take a one full course hahaha

    Reply
  26. Pawan

    How many times can mate drone king bee in it entair life .?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Just once. They die after they mate.

      Reply
  27. Judy Brown

    In your article you stated the Queen bee mates in flight.
    However, I don’t believe this is for ALL bees. The reason being I had seen a group of male bees (4-6)crowded around a Queen much larger than the males and they had the poor girl on the soil going up to my house. NOT in the air. Sorry to say this was before Cell phones and probably a once in a lifetime thing. Truthfully, I felt sorry for her in the gang bang and tried to knock a couple of the good old boyz off, but they had a good hold of her and I did not want to hurt any of them.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      That’s correct. It is only true of honey bees. There are other species of bee that do not mate in the air.

      Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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