When it comes to honey bee colonies, the queen bee is often believed to play the most important role within the hive. Though the queen bee does indeed have a key role in a colony and is protected and cared for by the other bees, the worker bees usually decide when a new queen is needed. When a hive becomes overcrowded or a queen bee’s performance decreases with age, it is time for a new queen.
In general, a hive may consist of up to twenty queen bee cells, which are selected by the worker bees. The larvae in these cells are specifically fed by worker bees to become sexually matured, furthermore becoming a queen bee. Because a hive can only have one queen, the new virgin queen kills the remaining queen bee larvae. The new queen’s main purpose is to reproduce within the hive, producing worker and drone bees to carry out daily tasks in order to keep the hive running.
A Queen’s Daily Function
The term “queen bee” can be somewhat misleading as the queen bee doesn’t necessarily run the entire hive. As stated, the queen bee’s main function within the hive is simply to reproduce. healthy and well-fed queen bee can produce close to 2,000 eggs every day, ultimately laying millions in her lifetime. Before a virgin queen bee can reproduce, she, of course, must mate with a male drone.
The mating process takes place outside of the hive, where thousands of male drones await the virgin queen. A queen bee will mate with multiple drones and only needs to mate once in her lifetime, as she will reserve sperm to fertilise eggs the rest of her life. Upon giving the queen their sperm, drone bees die after mating.
Back inside the hive, the queen lays both fertilised and unfertilized eggs. The fertilised eggs become female worker bees while the unfertilized eggs become male drones. Each day, the queen lays thousands of each of these eggs while she is fed and protected by the other bees. Aside from reproducing, there isn’t much a queen bee has to do. In addition to being fed, even her waste is removed by young bees.
Election of a New Queen
There a few ways a queen is replaced within the hive. Often times, when a hive becomes overcrowded, the queen will depart the hive with a number of workers to build a new colony. In other instances, an aging queen is killed as her ability to reproduce begins to diminish. As the queen bee ages and begins laying eggs in a less organized manner, worker bees decide to replace the queen by killing her.
Finally, a queen may also be replaced due to her sudden death. In this case, worker bees select certain larvae capable of becoming queens and feed these larvae with a special food called “royal jelly.” It is this jelly that ultimately produces a queen bee, rather than a worker. Queen’s are fed royal jelly throughout their lives.
Another New Queen
Whether it’s a sudden death or decrease in reproduction, a queen will be replaced in order to maintain a working hive. If a queen is no longer able to efficiently reproduce, workers will determine it is time to replace the queen. As you can see, the queen bee has little responsibility aside from reproducing, and when she can no longer do so, a new queen is born.
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