Yes, queen honeybees can fly – they just don’t, most of the time. The vast majority of a queen bee’s life is spent inside the hive laying eggs. She only ever flies when it’s time for her to mate, or when her colony swarms.
Do Queen Bees Have Wings?
Like all adult honeybees, queen bees have wings. There is a common misconception that they don’t because queen bees hardly ever fly.
A queen bee’s wings are a similar size to a worker bee’s. However, because a queen has a significantly longer abdomen than a worker, her wings look smaller in proportion to the rest of her body. A queen bee is also substantially heavier than a worker bee, which is why they need to lose weight before flying during a swarm.
Some beekeepers will clip the wings of a queen to stop her from swarming during the Spring – though other beekeepers debate its effectiveness and consider it unethical. Typically, a bee’s wings will be clipped about one-third of the normal length.
Clipping a queen bee’s wings also makes it easier to identify her, which can be quite difficult to do when searching through a packed beehive.
Do Queen Bees Ever Leave The Hive?
The queen’s main role inside a hive is to lay eggs – something she will do a lot of. In fact, during peak laying season in Spring, a healthy queen bee can lay 1,500 eggs per day! That’s more than her own body weight in eggs!
Because her job is so important, the queen bee rarely does anything else. While she is actively laying, she won’t leave the hive.
Worker bees take care of the queen’s every need, grooming her to keep her clean and feeding her to ensure she has enough energy to continue laying eggs. She doesn’t even go outside to poop, with the clean-up of her waste also assigned to workers.
Why Do Queen Bees Leave The Hive?
A queen honeybee doesn’t spend her entire life cycle inside the hive. She will leave it for 2 reasons:
1. When It’s Time To Swarm
Swarming is when a large group of bees leaves an established hive to form a new one, essentially creating two colonies from one. It is a natural means of reproduction for honeybees and happens during spring, when the colony becomes too large for their existing hive.
The colony will raise several new queens in queen cups in the lead-up to a swarm. The first virgin queen to hatch will kill the others using its stinger (unlike worker bees whose stingers have barbs, a queen bee can sting multiple times without dying).
The new queen stays behind to take over the hive, while the old queen will leave with about half the workers to find a new nesting site. The swarm typically leaves just before the new queen bees hatch.
Because a laying queen is very heavy, it is difficult for them to fly the required distance to find a new nesting site. Worker bees will prepare the queen bee to swarm by restricting her diet until she becomes light enough to fly, which can take a couple of weeks.
2. When It’s Time To Mate
A virgin queen bee will fly from the hive when it’s time to mate. This typically happens 5-6 days after the queen bee emerges from her cell because that’s when she becomes sexually mature.
During her mating flight, a queen bee will fly to an area where many male bees (drones) congregate. This typically occurs on a warm, sunny day.
A queen bee will mate with multiple drones during her mating flight while she is mid-air! If the good weather continues, she may return to the same spot for several days. Recent studies have shown that a queen bee will mate with up to 50 drones during her mating flights.
After mating with a drone, the queen bee stores an estimated 6 million sperm inside a special organ called the spermatheca. This storage of sperm allows the queen to control the fertilization of eggs. On average, a queen bee will continue laying eggs for 2-3 years after her mating period.
Do Queen Bees Fly Alone?
Queen bees do not fly alone – they are too important to the hive’s survival. If it is an established queen bee, she will only fly out of the hive when it’s time to swarm. In this instance, she is accompanied by thousands of worker bees needed to start a new hive.
If it is a virgin queen, she will leave the hive when it’s time to mate. Worker bees escort the queen as she leaves to go to the drone congregation area. The queen will then mate with several drones before flying back to the hive and be greeted by an escort of worker bees.
How Far Can A Queen Bee Fly?
A queen bee is heavier than most and cannot travel long distances. She only leaves the hive on 2 occasions, and the distance she flies each time will vary based on the reason for her departure.
How Far Does A Queen Bee Travel To Mate?
A queen bee will travel with a swarm when searching for a new hive location. The swarm typically flies a short distance (around 30 meters, or 100 feet) from the hive before forming a beard-like cluster on a nearby tree.
The queen bee will then wait with most of the colony while scout bees fly out in search of a suitable location nearby. Once the best location has been determined, the queen will fly with the rest of the colony to the new destination. How far this is depends on the location chosen. However, bees will commonly find a suitable nesting site within 5 kilometers (7 miles).
How Far Does A Queen Bee Travel When Swarming?
A virgin queen bee will fly to a drone congregation area when it’s time for her to mate. Typically these drone congregation areas are between 0.5 – 5 kilometers (0.3 – 3 miles) from the hive.
A virgin queen may travel to and from the drone congregation area multiple days in a row, meaning she covers a fair distance while mating. Queens bee mate mid-flight, too, which adds to their overall flight time. In total, you could assume a virgin queen bee will travel dozens of kilometers over the course of a mating period.
Summing Up… Can Queen Bees Fly?
Queen bees are interesting creatures, and have some significant differences to both workers and drones. However, like both these castes, queen bees can fly. They do so for 2 reasons.
Firstly to mate, when they are virgins who have recently emerged from their queen cells; and secondly, to swarm, when they are an established queen in a colony that has outgrown its hive.
A laying queen is heavier than a virgin, so in the lead up to her flight she is put on a restrictive diet to lose weight. This helps her cover the necessary distances required to reach the new nesting site.