Updated: Mar 2
She is the star of the hive, because of her egg-laying abilities, but is controlled by an overall puppet master - the collection of worker bees. Worker bees have the ability to raise a new queen - or kill an existing one - whenever they wish.
The queen is only in control of laying eggs and when she will lay, though her use of pheromones is a key signal for the colony. The queen is the largest bee in the colony. Her wings only make it half way down her abdomen, whereas the other bees have wings fully covering the abdomen. A queen honey bee is longer than a half of inch in size. Her most important anatomical characteristics are her female reproductive organs, such as the spermatheca. This is where she stores the sperm she collects during her mating flights. She will use this sperm for the rest of her life to lay fertilized eggs, which produce female bees.
The queen’s stinger is very smooth in comparison to the worker bee's stinger, which is barbed. Unlike workers, she can sting multiple times and survive. Her stinger is also used during the process of laying eggs, positioning eggs and to fight other queens. Generally, though, queens are docile and rarely sting beekeepers.
Can you spot the queen in a full frame of Honeybees out of a nuc box? Can you find it before the seasoned beekeeper holding the frame of honeybees?
In the summer, she can lay up to 2000 eggs a day! She will stop from time to time in the hive, to be groomed and fed by the worker bees called her 'attendants.' They form a circle around her, and will also spread her pheromone through the hive. This queen pheromone tells the bees that she is alive and well. She can live for 3 to 5 years. If the beehive is doing really well, she can run out of room to lay eggs, which can trigger the hive to start preparing to swarm.
Another thing that a queen bee does is produce special pheromones. Pheromones are chemical messengers -much like external hormones.
They are used to communicate hive conditions. A good queen has strong pheromones that promote stability in the hive. Colony daily life continues on with each hive members doing their tasks because they know a queen is present. QMP (Queen Mandibular Pheromone) is one of the most important pheromones produced. It affects the colony in many ways and plays a role in swarming, inhibiting sexual development in worker bees, etc.
If egg laying or pheromone production wanes, the honey bee colony may begin preparations to replace their queen. As with anyone who is the leader of an organization, she is often blamed when things go wrong. After a period of time, the old queen will not be able to lay enough fertile eggs to meet the colony demands. Poor egg production is often accompanied by failing pheromone production. Once the female worker bees become dissatisfied, her time is limited. The colony will produce queen cell and make a new leader. This is called a supersedure.
Sometimes beekeepers wants to introduce new genetics into a colony or replace an aging queen a replacement may be purchased. The old one is removed from the hive before the colony will accept a new queen that “smells” different.
The queen bee does not really make decisions about building up colony population. She can not lay eggs until the workers build honeycomb and clean the cells. She will not lay eggs in an unpolished cell. No honeycomb, no polished cells = no eggs laid. The workers are the ones who really make most colony decisions.
The queen does nothing but lay eggs. She does not forage for food or water and she can not take care of any brood. While the queen has the capacity to fly. She only leaves the hive during her time of mating or later with a swarm.
She gives her whole life in service to the colony. Her tasks can not be accomplished by another colony member. This is why a colony without a queen strives to replace her quickly when needed. Unfortunately, situations occur where a queen is left with few or no worker bees. In this situation, the colony is doomed.