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The term queen bee is typically used to refer to an adult, mated female in a honey bee colony or hive; she is usually the mother of all the bees in the hive. The queens are developed from larvae selected by worker bees and specially fed in order to become sexually mature. There is normally only one adult, mated queen in a hive.
The term can be more generally applied to any dominant reproductive female in a colony of a eusocial bee species other than honey bees.
Additional recommended knowledge
When conditions are favorable for swarming or when the old queen starts to fail, the worker bees of a colony will begin to develop one or more new queens. The queen will develop from an egg (or sometimes very young larva) identical to eggs which will develop into worker bees. The young queen develops differently because she is more heavily fed royal jelly, a protein-rich secretion from glands on the heads of young workers. (All honey bee larvae are fed some royal jelly for the first few days after hatching but only queen larvae are fed on it exclusively.) As a result of the difference in diet, the queen will develop into a sexually mature female, unlike the worker bees.
Queens are raised in specially-constructed queen cells which are larger than the cells of normal brood comb and are oriented vertically instead of horizontally. In general, queens developed when conditions are ripe for swarming and are raised in cells which hang from the bottom of a frame while "supersedure" queens are generally raised in cells built out from the face of a frame. The cells have a peanut-like shape and texture.
As the young queen larva pupates with her head down, the workers cap the cell with beeswax. When ready to emerge, she will chew a circular cut around the cap of her cell. Often the cap swings open when most of the cut is made, so as to appear like a hinged lid. (Queen cells that are opened on the side indicate that the virgin queen was likely killed by a rival.)
When a young queen emerges, she will generally seek out her rivals and attempt to kill them. Unlike the worker bees, the queen's stinger is not barbed. The queen can sting repeatedly without dying. The workers of the colony may, on occasion, thwart the young queen in her attempt to kill the rivals. For example, during the swarm season, workers may separate young queens, allowing the extra queen(s) to leave with afterswarms.
When one queen survives in a colony, she will fly out on a sunny, warm day to a "drone congregation area" where she will mate with 12-15 drones. If the weather holds, she may return to the drone congregation area for several days until she is fully mated. The young queen stores the sperm in her spermatheca. She will selectively release sperm from that one mating flight for the remaining 2-7 years of her life.
The young queen has only a limited time to mate. If she is unable to fly for several days because of bad weather and remains unmated, she will become a "drone layer." Drone-laying queens usually mean the death of the colony, because the workers have no fertilized (female) larvae from which to raise a replacement.
A special, rare case of reproduction is thelytoky: the reproduction of female workers or queens by laying worker bees. Thelytoky occurs in the Cape bee, Apis mellifera capensis, and has been found in other strains at very low frequency.
Daily life for the queen
Although the name might imply it, a queen does not directly control the hive. Her sole function is to serve as the reproducer. A well-mated and well-fed queen of quality stock can lay about 2,000 eggs per day during the spring build-up — more than her own bodyweight in eggs every day. She is continuously surrounded by worker bees who meet her every need, giving her food and disposing of her waste. The attendant workers also collect and then distribute queen substance, a pheromone that inhibits the workers from laying eggs of their own.
During the egg-laying process, the queen decides whether to lay a fertilized (female) egg or an unfertilized (male) egg based on the width of the cell. Drones are raised in cells which are significantly larger than the cells used for workers. The queen fertilizes the egg by selectively releasing sperm from her spermatheca as the egg passes through her ovaduct.
Supersedure is the process by which an old queen bee is replaced by a new queen. Supersedure may be initiated due to old age of a queen or a diseased or failing queen. As the queen ages her pheromone output diminishes.
Supersedure may be forced by a beekeeper. For example, by clipping off one of the middle or posterior legs from the queen, she will be unable to properly place her eggs at the bottom of the brood cell. The workers will detect this and will then rear replacement queens. When a new queen is available, the workers will kill the reigning queen by "balling" her — clustering tightly around her until she dies from overheating. (This overheating method is also used to kill large predatory wasps that enter the hive in search of food and may be used against a foreign queen attempting to take over an existing colony. This is often a problem for beekeepers attempting to introduce a replacement queen.)
Virgin queen bee
A virgin queen is a queen bee that has not mated with a drone. Virgins are intermediate in size between workers and mated, laying queens, and are much more active than the latter. They are hard to spot while inspecting a frame, because they run across the comb, climbing over worker bees if necessary, and may even take flight if sufficiently disturbed. Virgin queens can often be found clinging to the walls or corners of a hive during inspections.
Virgin queens appear to have little queen pheromone and often do not appear to be recognized as queens by the workers. A virgin queen in her first few hours after emergence can be placed into the entrance of any queenless hive or nuc and acceptance is usually very good, whereas a mated queen is usually recognized as a stranger and runs a high risk of being killed by the older workers.
Virgins will quickly find and kill (by stinging) any other emerged virgin queen (or be dispatched themselves), as well as any unemerged queens.
When a colony is preparing to swarm, the workers may prevent virgins from fighting and one or several virgins may go with the swarm while other virgins stay behind with the remnant of the hive. As many as 21 virgin queens have been counted in a single large swarm. When the swarm settles into a new home, the virgins will then resume normal behavior and fight to the death until only one remains. The old queen will usually be allowed to live and continue laying, but within a couple weeks she will disappear and the former virgin, now mated, will take her place.
Piping describes a noise made by queen bees. Adult queens communicate through vibratory signals: "quacking" from virgin queens in their queen cells and "tooting" from queens free in the colony, collectively known as piping. A virgin queen may frequently pipe before she emerges from her cell and for a brief time afterwards. Mated queens may briefly pipe after being released in a hive. The piping sound is variously described as a children's trumpet tooting and quacking. It is quite loud and can be clearly heard outside the hive. The piping sound is created by the flight motor without movement of the wings. The vibration energy is resonated by the thorax.
Piping is most common when there is more than one queen in a hive. It is postulated that the piping is a form of battle cry announcing to competing queens and the workers their willingness to fight. It may also be a signal to the worker bees which queen is the most worthwhile to support.
The piping sound is a G sharp or A natural. The adult queen pipes for a two-second pulse followed by a series of quarter-second toots. The queens of Africanized bees produce more vigorous and frequent bouts of piping.
The queen bee's abdomen is noticeably longer than the worker honeybees surrounding her. Even so, in a hive of 60,000 to 80,000 honeybees, it is often difficult for beekeepers to find the queen with any speed; for this reason, many queens in non-feral colonies are marked with a light daub of paint on their thorax. The paint used does no harm to the queen and makes her much easier to find when necessary.
Although the colour is sometimes randomly chosen, professional queen breeders use a system whereby the colour of a queen's dot indicates what year she hatched. This aids beekeepers who are deciding whether their queens are too old to maintain a strong hive and need to be replaced. Sometimes tiny convex disks marked with identification numbers are used when a beekeeper has many queens born in the same year.
|Honey bee types and characteristics (edit)|
|Worker and drone bees|
|Worker bee | Laying worker bee | Drone|
| Beehive | Honey bee life cycle | Brood |
Bee learning and communication | Swarming
|Western honey bee subspecies and breeds|
| Buckfast bee | Carniolan honey bee | European dark bee | Italian bee |
Africanized bee | Apis mellifera scutellata
| Beekeeping | Beeswax | Honey | Honey extraction |
Apiary | Beehive | Langstroth hive | Top-bar hive
Apiology | Honey extractor
|Topics in beekeeping | Honey bee races|
|Diseases of the honey bee|