Despite their names, queen bees are not the rulers of the hive in the normal understanding of a monarch. They do, however, have an all-important role to play. Their lives are very unique, often chaotic, and definitely busy. There are many aspects of their lives that are not widely known and that you might find very surprising. Read on to learn more about their royal role and what they must do to perform it.
A Royal Position
Queen bees keep the family line going, so to speak. Their task is seemingly simple, but as you are going to see, a lot goes into their preparation and upkeep. The queen bee of a hive is solely responsible for laying eggs, which later become the new bees in the hive. This is no small feat; a queen bee can lay as many as 1,500 eggs in a day!
The Emergence of a Queen Bee
Most insects and bees don’t have very long lifespans. Honey bees are known to live anywhere from five weeks to six months depending on the season. The queen bee is an exception to this rule and can live anywhere from two to seven years! That is a long life for a bee, but the queen has the support from her worker bees and the preparation she needs to make these years extremely fruitful.
When a bee colony needs a new queen bee because the existing one has either become too old or is no longer performing her role, an intricate and well-orchestrated series of events begins to unfold. The new queen, just like all other bees, comes from one of the eggs laid by the current queen. All of these eggs fall into one of two categories—they can either be fertilized or unfertilized eggs. Male bees or drones are born from the unfertilized eggs, while the fertilized ones can become either worker bees or new queen bees.
When the fertilized eggs hatch into larvae, they are all fed on royal jelly for about three days. On the fourth day, the worker bee larvae have their diet switched to honey and pollen, but the queen bee larvae continue on the royal jelly. There are often more than one queen bee larvae raised at a time. Even though only one is needed to perform the queen bee’s role in the hive at a time, there’s a very good reason for this. By having more than one option, there is a higher likelihood that the strongest and sturdiest queen can emerge as the true queen and heir to the throne, so to speak. A strong and healthy queen is good for the whole hive. The fight for the throne is nothing but brutal. A new queen has to sting and kill her rivals in their cells before they hatch. If more than one queen hatches at once, it’s a battle to the death.
Made to Be Unique
Interestingly enough, only the female members of the family (queen bees and worker bees) have stingers. When a worker bee stings, she loses her stinger and her pumping venom stack. As a result, she dies within a few minutes of this encounter. On the other hand, queen bees can use their stingers many times, but this is usually reserved for fighting off other queens in their early days as already mentioned.
We know that queen bees lay millions of eggs in their lifespan, but surprisingly, they only have to mate in one short mating season in their lifetime. They have a special organ where they store millions of sperm, and that allows them to go on laying eggs for the rest of their lives or for three years, typically.