THE QUEEN MOTHER

Queen BeeThe queen is the only member of the hive with an extended lifespan. She can live up to six years depending on the climatic conditions in which she has her hive. The queen is the only fertile female. She is the mother of the society.

Royal jelly, composed of sugars and hypo pharyngeal gland secretions, is used to feed the larval queen. A special cell is required for her metamorphosis. Her long body requires extra room in which to grow and develop. A queen cell is a peanut-like protuberance, easily spotted in the working hive.

The queen’s wings are the same length as a worker. Fortunately this regal lady only needs to fly once or twice in her life. On a maiden flight a new queen will mate with several drones. The spermatozoa are stored in her reproductive system to be released as she lays her eggs.

On a typical summer day, a queen can lay 2,000 eggs. This is a remarkable rate of 5 or 6 eggs per minute. In the course of the year, she will lay between 175,000 and 200,000 eggs.

The queen’s stinger is not barbed like the worker bees. A queen is capable of repeated stings. Her venom is generally reserved for combat with another queen. This only occurs if the queen is aged and her productivity is diminishing. A failing queen is readily replaced by the workers. They will locate an egg, under three days old, flood the cell with royal jelly and build the cell sides to compensate for the longer body requirements. The new queen will emerge in 16 days. In ten days she will take her maiden flight, be fertilized and return to replenish the hive population.

The queen’s role in the hive is to maintain active population growth. She receives all her daily necessities from the worker bees. She is fed, groomed and guarded throughout her life. When an old queen is replaced she will swarm with loyal followers, leaving her hive to the younger, stronger queen.

A large healthy population count is necessary to produce the honey required by the hive to survive the winter. The relationship of a queen in a healthy colony is essential to survival.

Queens can be found by careful inspection of the brood frames in a cultivated hive. She will be surrounded by worker bees. Usually engrossed in her duties of cell inspection and egg laying, a queen appears slow and methodical. When looking for her, you want to seek a small daisy-like cluster; the queen will be the center of the apian “flower”.

Some beekeepers mark the queen for easier, quicker identification. Some believe this application of paint coloration to the thorax shortens the lifespan of the queen. This has not been proven and many keepers color-code the queens in their apiaries. Others will clip the wings of the queen. Wing clipping is an unnecessary action, as the queen will not leave the hive after her mating flight unless she is no longer productive.

Honey bee-havior is largely controlled by the queen’s pheromone. Queen substance (9-oxo-2-decenoic acid) is produced in the queen’s mandibular glands. This scent is specific to the individual. Each hive has only one monarch, one matriarch. The cohesion of the colony is dependant on the queen.

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