So how do bees make a queen?
In my last post, I talked about splitting my big hive to make a smaller hive. When I did the split, I left the queen in the big hive and now need the bees I selected for the split hive to make another queen. Sounds simple enough.
So, how do they decide who gets to wear the crown? Do they pick the most popular bee in the hive and make her queen? Do they have a contest to see which bee brings in the most pollen or honey? Is there a screening committee to review all interested applicants?
No, that would be too easy.
Bees are very complex creatures that have their own special methods of making a queen.
If you remember, I made a special point to get freshly laid eggs from the queen in the mother hive. These eggs begin to hatch in three days. At this time, nurse bees feed all larvae (hatched eggs) with a special, rich food called royal jelly. It is at this time, they can decide which larvae will be a worker bee or queen. If the larvae is chosen to be a worker bee, the royal jelly is cut off and they are fed pollen and honey. If they decide the larvae will be a queen, royal jelly is fed continually.
Royal jelly is secreted from the glands of the worker bees. It has been referred to as bee milk and is packed full of protein and sugars. When worker bees are denied this food, their ovaries shrivel up and they will not be able to lays eggs. When a future queen is fed royal jelly, she will grow twice the size of a worker bee which is why the cells for queen bees are easy to spot.
I had 6 queen cells in my split hive but the hive only needs 1 queen. When the first queen emerges, she quickly makes her way to the other queen cells, opens them up, and stings the forming queens to kill them. If two queens emerge simultaneously, they will fight until one is dead. Being a Queen is serious business!
After she has taken care of her competition, she prepares to take her mating flight. Virgin queens do not mate with the drones in her hive. Instead, she will leave her hive and fly 30 or more feet in the air and mate with drones from another colony. When she arrives at this mating area, she will emit a pheromone or smell that attracts the drones to mate with her. She may have to make more than one mating flight but will eventually mate with as many as 20 drones. When she is finished mating, hopefully she will return to the hive and take on the role of Queen Bee. I say hopefully because a number of things could happen while she is out of the hive. She could get caught in bad weather and not be able to find her way home, be killed by the weather, or even eaten by a bird.
But, one thing is for sure. The fate of the hive depends on her return.
And, if she makes it back to the hive, she will begin to lay eggs. A young queen can lay up to 2000 eggs A DAY. That’s a lot of baby bees!
So there you have it. The condensed version of how a bee makes a queen.
Pretty amazing creatures.