How Do Bees Produce a Queen Bee?

J. Doherty asks: How do Honey bees produce a queen bee?

Now You KnowI mentioned this in an article on Honey bees a couple years ago in the Bonus Facts, but for those who missed it, Honey bees create a queen bee for a few different reasons, such as the death of the previous queen bee, if the hive gets overpopulated resulting in not enough space to lay eggs and the like.  The making of a new queen bee after the death of the old one is particularly critical to be done quickly as the existing eggs must be less than three days old in order for them to do what’s necessary to make it into a queen bee.

In any event, to answer your question, Honey bees create a new queen bee as follows:

  • Step 1: Bees construct up to 20 wax queen cells.
  • Step 2: The current queen lays fertilized eggs in each queen cell (or in the case of the death of the queen, some existing eggs under three days old will be converted to queen cells by the method in the following step).
  • Step 3: The young nurse bees feed the young queen larvae with a special rich creamy food called Royal Jelly and extend the cell downwards until it is about 25mm in length.
  • Step 4: About nine days after laying, the first queen cell is sealed with a layer of wax.
  • Step 5: Assuming a new queen is being made because of an overpopulation within the hive, a large swarm, called the prime swarm, of bees leaves the hive, led by the older bees.  The old queen gets starved so she is thinner and able to fly with the swarm and they go off scouting for a new place to create a colony.  During their trip, the swarm will take frequent breaks to send out scouts to go search on their own.  The scouts report back and from this information, they choose the best spot to go next until they finally settle on an optimal location.
  • Step 6: Back in the hive, about a week later, the first of the new queens will leave her cell.  The new queen will then either choose to locate and kill her sister potential queens by stinging them through the wax wall of their cells or she will take a small swarm and go start a new hive somewhere, particularly if the hive is still somewhat crowded.  If she leaves, then the next to emerge from her cell will make the same decision.  Eventually one will decide to stay.
  • Step 7: The young queen flies around and orients herself to her new surroundings.
  • Step 8: The queen will take several mating flights and will mate with up to 20 male bees called drones; the drones will die after mating.
  • Step 9: A few days later, the mated queen will begin to lay fertilized eggs at a rate of about 2000 per day.  Fertilized eggs become female worker bees.  Unfertilized eggs get fertilized by male drones and become new drones.  At any given time in a healthy hive, there is 1 queen bee, up to 40,000 or so female worker bees, and a few hundred male drones.
  • Step 10: This queen will stay with the colony for at least a year until a large enough swarm is available to go start a new colony somewhere else.  Though the worker bees only live 40 or so days and drone bees die in mating or are evicted from the hive in the autumn to conserve food as they do no actual work, the queen bee can live up to 5 years.

For many more fascinating Honey Bee facts, including that Honey Bees assign jobs based on the age of the bee, go here: Honey Bees Know the World is Round and Can Calculate Angles

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  • Interesting and clearly written article. There is however one mistake. Drones are haploid. They have half the full number of chromosomes and develop from unfertilised eggs laid by the queen (parthenogenesis). The queen and workers are both diploid and are produced from fertilised eggs produced by the queen. Whether they develop into new queens or workers, is determined by differential gene expression, depending on what they are fed.

  • Really glad I read this.

  • Sounds like a medieval human society! Or, less politically correctly, today’s society !!!

  • So complex and organized! I’m often wonder there has to be a few more female bees with Queen qualities, yet only one Queen bee in the colony, the other potential queens will be killed off. All workers are female bees and the boy bees as protectors besides mating with the Queen?