Bee society and structure is one that is as intriguing as any made by man. Queens are one of the important figures of bees’ lives.
Most of the activities of social bees are geared towards protecting the queen and the brood she produces for the colony.
Bees will kill their queen or replace her when her egg laying capacity has decreased. This will ensure that the hive is always active and can continue producing new workers for the hive.
As an intending beekeeper, you need to be able to identify your queen bee and also notice when she has been disposed of by the workers.
You can also decide to introduce a new queen if you feel the old one is no longer as productive.
This article will focus on the nuances of queen bees and their relationship with the other bees in the colony.
Table of Contents
Do Queen Bees Kill Their Mates?
Once the old queen in a colony dies or is killed, the worker bees begin to make preparations for a new virgin queen.
The worker bees construct larger cells and move a few young larvae to those cells to allow them to grow bigger than the average worker bees.
They also continue feeding them on the royal jelly as this diet is what makes a queen different from drones and workers.
The queen emerges 16 days after she was hatched and her first course of duty is to kill the other unmerged queens.
She goes round the cells killing her rivals who have not yet fully developed and emerged as adults by stinging them to death in their cells.
By doing this she remains unchallenged and then goes on to prepare for her nuptial flights to get mated with the drones.
Related here is an article I wrote on what colors do bees like?
Do Queen Bees Kill Each Other?
In the case where more than one queen bee emerges at once in one colony, there will be a fight to the death among the contestants.
In most cases, the first queen to emerge from her cell goes round the hive to find other rival queens that have not yet emerged.
She does this by making piping noises which the other queens respond to before stinging them ruthlessly.
However there might be more than one queen to emerge at the same time and when this happens they engage in a battle to the death by stinging each other to death.
This is easy for them as queen bees have smooth stingers unlike the workers who have a barbed stinger.
However, if it is swarming season one of the virgin queens will take some bees and find another place to start another colony.
Why Do Bees Reject A Queen?
Once a queen bee has started laying eggs she sends out a pheromone known as the queen’s substance which suppresses the egg laying ability of the worker bees rendering them sterile.
This substance allows the bees to recognize that particular queen and they get familiar and used to that scent throughout the queen’s life.
In some cases the beekeeper decides to replace the existing queen to keep the colony very productive.
The new queen introduced by the beekeeper will be unfamiliar to the bees especially if they are not from the same genetic line.
As such the new queen doesn’t exactly smell right to the bees and they will see her as an invader to the hive.
Their defensive instincts kick in and the worker bees try to kill her by forming a ball around her and stinging her to death.
In some cases the worker bees will stop the balling process, decide to accept the queen and allow her to live. Most times though, the balling process results in death for the queen.
For beekeepers planning to introduce a new queen to a hive, there are several ways to introduce the queen slowly so she gets accepted by the worker bees.
Also, among a stingless species of bees called the Scaptotrigona depilis, the bees can decide to reject and kill the queen if she starts laying diploid drones.
Diploid drones are male bees that developed from female eggs and as such have a female body but male chromosomes and are as lazy and useless to the colony as other drones.
The queen can start producing diploid males in cases where she has mated with a drone of a similar genetic makeup with her.
Also read this article I wrote on do bees have ears?
What Happens If You Kill A Queen Bee?
Inexperienced beekeepers can sometimes accidentally kill their queen bee during hive checks and render the hive queenless.
However some beekeepers also kill the old queens when they want to requeen their hive.
In any case, the worker bees will immediately notice the absence of the queen’s scent. They are familiar with the pheromone which the queen drops as she goes about the hive.
The moment they notice the absence, they start preparations for installing a new queen and they prepare cells in which they place larvaes younger than 3 days to feed them on the royal diet.
It usually takes about 15 days for the new virgin queen to emerge from its cell.
If you plan on introducing a new queen to the bees, then it is best to kill the old queen about two to three days before introducing the new one.
It is also important that you find the queen cells and destroy them because if a queen from their brood emerges, the bees will kill the queen you introduced.
What Happens When A Bee Colony Loses Its Queen?
When a colony has lost its queen, the worker bees immediately go into a frenzy to replace the old queen.
In normal cases where the queen bee has started producing fewer eggs and her pheromone levels are low, it would have alerted the worker bees to start building queen sized cells in preparation for a new queen.
However if the queen dies suddenly, the worker bees have to start an emergency rearing which will take about 15 – 20 days to complete.
Once the new queen emerges from the cells, the first thing she does is kill off her other unemerged rivals in their cells by stinging them to death.
However if 2 queens emerge at the same time, they will engage in a fight to the death battle and the winner becomes the new queen.
Once the new virgin queen has successfully killed off every rival, she starts preparing for mating with the drones.
She flies to the air to mate with about 8 to 10 drones. This mating is the only sexual activity the queen experiences throughout her life.
The drones release spermatozoa into her oviductus and she stores it in a special chamber called the spermatheca.
On returning to the hive, she begins laying eggs and develops a new brood which ensures the continuity of the colony.
In cases where the dead queen did not leave a young brood however, the beekeeper would have to introduce a new queen to begin laying eggs for the colony.
As long as the worker bees have a queen to fuss over and suppress their egg laying instincts, the colony will be fine.
However when the colony is queenless for longer than the necessary time, the worker bees start laying unfertilized eggs which will emerge as drones.
Since the drones do not participate in any productive activities in the colony, this usually means the colony will die out as there are no female bees to ensure continuity and they are also more exposed to diseases and pests.
How Many Bees Can A Queen Survive
A queen bee is the longest living in the hive. Unlike worker bees who only live about 3 to 6 weeks before dying, the queen bee can survive for as long as 5 years.
This is because the only job she has is to lay eggs for the colony and all her needs are attended to by the worker bees.
They even feed her food which has been pre-digested by the nurse bees.
A queen bee can lay up to 2000 – 3000 eggs per day as she has stored millions of spermatozoa during her one-time mating with the drones.
The queen’s egg laying capabilities however decreases as time goes by, and once the worker bees notice the decline, they begin preparations for a new queen.
Old queens can start laying more drones as her sperm supply is getting used up.
Most often a queen can last up to two years before she starts declining and the bees or beekeeper can decide to replace her with a younger and more productive queen.
Do Bees Turn On Their Queen?
Due to the decline of eggs the queen is producing, the worker bees can decide to kill the current queen and replace her with a younger queen who will produce more eggs for the colony.
To do this, the worker bees do this by a technique called balling. They form a ball around the queen and sting her till she dies.
The bees then finish preparations for a new queen who is more productive.
Bees are a complicated and fascinating set of creatures which humans have been striving to understand for centuries.
The queen is not as powerful as her human counterpart, in simple terms she is important to the hive but she can also be dispatched if she is not performing up to par.
As a beekeeper it is important that you are able to recognize the queen in the colony and know the signs that signify that your colony is queenless so you go about requeening successfully.