Queen bees are by far the most famous type of bees. You only have to look into pop culture to find endless references to them. But what do queen bees do? What makes them so important (and famous)?
A Queen bee mates with drones and reproduces – that’s all she does! The primary responsibility of a queen bee is the prolongation of the colony. While it may sound like she doesn’t do much, being the sole egg-layer gives her unique powers that influence the behavior of the whole colony.
Let’s see in more detail what a queen bee does…
Reproduction – The Main Role Of A Queen Bee In The Colony
The queen bee has a crucial function in her colony. She is the only bee that can lay both fertilized and unfertilized eggs. That’s because, unlike worker bees, the queen has fully developed reproductive organs that allow her to reproduce sexually.
About 5-7 days after a new queen bee emerges from her cell, she goes on a mating flight. This means she leaves the hive to mate with drones and collects their spermatic fluid in an organ called the spermatheca. Each mating flight can last up to an hour, and the queen bee will take as many flights as necessary to fill up her spermatheca.
Once her spermatheca is full, she returns to the hive, where she will dedicate her entire time and energy to laying eggs. A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. This means, during summer, her peak laying season, she can produce about 200,000 eggs!
While it would be easy to think the queen lays eggs in every empty comb cell she finds, she uses a more organized method. The queen lays eggs in the empty cells closest to the brood and begins at the center of the comb. Additionally, she uses her forelegs to measure the size of the cells, so she knows where to lay fertilized and unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs, which will later develop into workers, are inserted in average-sized cells. In contrast, unfertilized eggs, which produce drones, are placed in larger cells.
As you can probably imagine, laying eggs is essential but very demanding. That’s why a queen bee spends most of her time inside the hive. The only other occasion where she will fly out is to swarm with half of the colony.
What Else Does A Queen Bee Do? – Other Duties And Responsibilities
Being the only bee among thousands that can reproduce and lay eggs can be more work than it sounds. The colony depends on this social order to function properly and survive. Therefore, besides producing new bees, the queen must also maintain her position as the only egg-layer.
She does this through chemical signals called primer pheromones. These pheromones produce physiological and behavioral changes in worker bees, including suppressing the development of workers’ ovaries and their ability to lay eggs.
These pheromones also allow worker bees to know when to raise a new queen. This is important because if the colony finds itself without a queen bee, there won’t be new bees, and the colony will die eventually. Under normal circumstances, the queen pheromone prevents workers from rearing queens. However, when the queen is sick, unfit, or preparing to swarm, workers start raising a new one to guarantee the colony’s survival once she’s gone.
What Doesn’t A Queen Bee Do?
I’ve covered what a queen bee does. What about what she doesn’t do?
Most of the tasks in the colony are entrusted to worker bees. They are the ones that clean the beehive, build the comb, raise new queens and workers, collect nectar and pollen, and produce food like honey and royal jelly, among other tasks.
The queen bee doesn’t participate in any of these activities. Not even in feeding and cleaning herself because worker bees also do that for her. Worker bees predigest food and then give it to her. They also clean her almost non-stop, reducing her chances of getting sick.
Who’s Really In Charge?
Do queen bees really rule over the colony? You may think because she’s called queen bee, she gets to boss other bees around. However, that’s not the case.
A queen bee has no real say over making decisions inside the hive. Bees are what’s known as a superorganism, which means they act as a single large unit made up of smaller units (in this case, individual bees). While each bee plays an important role in the colony, none is more important than the group.
This includes the queen. As long as she is strong, healthy, and laying eggs, it’s in the best interest of the colony to take care of her. However, if she gets sick or old and her ability to lay diminishes, worker bees will raise a new queen to replace her.
The old queen can’t order them to stop doing this, and even if she could, no one would listen. That’s because she’s not really in charge of the hive. Instead, the entire colony makes decisions as a group based on what’s best for their continued survival.
Queen bees have an essential role in the colony. They are the only member that can reproduce and produce worker bees. Without her, the prolongation of the colony would be endangered, and the social order would also be at risk.
After emerging, the queen bee will mate with different drones and return to the hive, where she will spend the rest of her days. Besides going out to meet suitable drones to mate with, the only other occasion she’ll be out of the hive is to swarm and start a new colony elsewhere.
Queen bees only lay eggs. They don’t participate in any activities within the colony, like making honey or taking care of the brood. She also will have a special group of worker bees tending to her every need. So while it sounds like she is the ruler of the hive, she is only a part of a larger unit that makes joint decisions that benefit them all as a group. Sometimes these decisions include getting rid of her and replacing her with a younger and fitter queen.