We all know how important bees are to our planet and survival, but not many people know about their life cycles and the way they live. Knowing these things can help people understand how to care for and look after our little bee friends.
Honey bees are one of the biggest pollinating insects found in the UK, they live in colonies of over 50,000 which usually consists of one queen, hundreds of male “drone” bees, and between 20,000 and 80,000 female “worker” bees.
Queen bees are essentially the mothers of the hive - every single bee that works within the colony will have been born from the queen. She doesn’t directly control the colony, other than releasing pheromones that instruct the worker bees what kind of cells to construct in the hive (e.g, whether new queen cells need to be constructed). Drone bees do not actually serve any purpose for the hive itself, their job is to go out and find a new queen. The queen bee is simply there to be a mother to all the larvae.
Honey bees will “swarm” at a certain time of the year when conditions are suitable, this is when bees will leave their current hive, and build or find a new one. The queen will sense this months in advance, she will then lay her eggs so that the timing between them hatching and the colony swarming is just right. This enables the colonies to split up and new queens will have a chance to separate and start their own colony.
How is a Queen Bee born?
Queen bees are born as regular bee larvae, however the worker bees will selectively choose the healthiest larvae which are then placed within their own special chamber and fed more honey (also known as “Royal Jelly”) than the normal “worker” or “drone” larvae. This helps the bee to mature a lot faster and grow larger than the others that grow in more restricted nursery cells in the hive. Although all the larvae are fed royal jelly, non-queen larvae are fed significantly less.
What does the Queen Bee do once they’re fully grown?
Once fully mature the queen bee will start to chew a round hole to leave the chamber she has been growing in. Once out she will find other mature queens to fight, queen bees have non-barbed stingers and so are able to sting rivals repeatedly without dying themselves. After successfully fighting off her competitors, she will leave her hive when the rest of the colony is ready to swarm, and she will split off with them to create her own new hive and colony. Multiple queen bees can emerge from a single hive during a swarm- worker bees often separate the queen larvae up so not all of them fight to the death.
What happens when a Queen Bee dies?
When a Queen Bee starts to get old and frail the amount of pheromones she releases will fall. This is a signal to the worker bees that new queens need to be produced so they will start to construct more queen larvae chambers. Often the fall in pheromones happens well before the queen actually dies so she has time to create more queens, however in the case of sudden death female worker bees will temporarily take the place of the queen, and will find larvae to create an “emergency queen”. These queens are often much smaller, and live a shorter life than a properly developed and nurtured queen.
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