How Does A Bee Become A Queen?
Honey bees are insects belonging to the genus Apis. Honey bees are a eusocial species, meaning that they belong to the highest level of social organization group of all animals. Bee hives are inhabited by swarms. There are many different breeds of bees that coexist in hives: the queen, the worker bees (females) and the drones (males).
But how does a bee become a queen? Let’s find out here at AnimalWised. In this article we will be discussing how to differentiate a queen bee from the others, and explain how a fight between queen bees takes place. Keep reading to find out more.
The birth of a queen bee
There are many different situations that can occur when it comes to a hive needing a new queen bee. These situations include: the death of a queen bee or the creation of a new swarm (due to lack of space in a current one). We call a group of bees a swarm, which are generally in movement. Sometimes, a large group of bees leave the colony with a queen to settle into a new hive. These swarms can reach up to a measurement of 20 meters.
Before this event occurs, a hive is responsible for raising a new queen, since most species of bees cannot survive without one. This phenomenon usually takes place when a hive becomes too small to house all of its individuals, usually in late spring and throughout summer, when bee activity reaches its peak.
Because the worker bees do not live long and the survival of a hive depends directly on the queen, when the workers suspect that they will need a new one, they act fast. They select 3 to 5 larvae to be fed by ‘‘royal jelly’’ (rich in protein). These larvae which are only be fed with royal jelly, implies that these bees:
- Are a larger size, with a protruding abdomen.
- Hold a longevity markedly superior to that of other members of the same beehive. They can live between 3 and 5 years, unlike the workers, who usually live a maximum of 5 weeks.
- They hold the ability to reproduce up to 2,000 eggs a day.
- They have an absence of the suction organ.
- They appear in different shades, reaching a tan color.
Queen bees fighting
Once the larvae have been selected, the worker bees will take care of them scrupulously until birth. Once birthed, there is a fight between the 3 selected larvae bees. There can only be one queen bee; the strongest. It is important that the surviving queen bee is the most powerful, since she is the one that will transmit her genetic material to more than 2,000 larvae everyday for 3 or 5 years.
Once the queen bees fight to death, the surviving queen prepares to be fertilized by the fastest males. Due to this method, the hive will birth the strongest and fastest specimens.
How does the queen bee reproduce?
Once the queen is selected, male bees chase the female in a "nuptial flight" trying to win the opportunity to reproduce with her. However, only the fastest males will gain the chance to fertilize. Once full of sperm, the queen bee returns to the hive to rest for a few days. Once rested, she starts to lay eggs that will play a large role in the growth of the hive.
Where do bees lay their eggs?
The queen, in addition to being the only bee of the colony capable of reproducing and laying eggs, has control over whether she lays males or females. To give birth to a female bee, a queen bee will deposit the egg in an ovum cell which has been fertilized by sperm. To give birth to a male (drone), she would deposit a non-fertilized egg into the honeycomb.
How to identify the queen bee?
There are some morphological details that can help us in identifying and recognizing a queen bee:
- Of all the bees, the queen is usually the largest: except in some species.
- By focusing on the body, we can observe that the queen’s abdomen is larger and more robust.
- The stinger of a queen bee is not jagged, allowing her to sting without dying. On the contrary, worker bees have a serrated stinger that causes them to remain in their target's body, inevitably causing their own death.
- The extremities of a queen bee are usually remarkably large.
- When it moves through the hive, the other bees usually let her pass.
Queen bee royal jelly epigenetics
A group of workers, known as "wet nurses" are mainly responsible for larvae. They secrete royal jelly through their glandular cephalic system, which is located in their heads. Royal Jelly is a whitish substance with nacreous reflections, a gelatinous texture and is warm and acidic. All the larvae receive royal jelly during their development stage. The difference however between the chosen queen larvae, that that they receive pure royal jelly, without water or pollen.
For more on these phenomenal flying insects, read our article AnimalWised article on how are pesticides are killing bees.
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1 S. Sua, S. Albertb, S. Chena and B. Zhonga; Molecular cloning and analysis of four cDNAs from the heads of Apis cerana cerana nurse honeybees coding for major royal jelly proteins, Apidologie Volume 36, Number 3, July-September 2005, 389 - 401 07 July 2005. Disponible en: https://www.apidologie.org/articles/apido/abs/2005/03/M4084/M4084.html