How Does a Bee Become a Queen?

Grab yourself a cup of tea, cocoa, or coffee, we are about to hear the story called, “How does a bee become a queen?” It’s the tale of one little larvae who eats her jelly and becomes the prestigious queen bee.

It is a tale of woe, hardship, delicious culinary delights, death and ultimately, beehive glory. It’s the story of how a bee becomes the queen.

Okay, time to set the scene here with a bit of back story. Once upon a time, after a tenure of up to five years servicing her hive, the queen bee had simply had enough. Laying more than your body weight in eggs every day will do that to you.

How Does a Bee Become a Queen

The queen, who either has an overcrowded hive or whose pheromone count is dwindling, has two choices. 

The first choice, and the most desirable, is to get out of the hive and leave with the primary swarm during swarming season. This is usually just before the new queen is ready to hatch.

Choice two is to be ruthlessly murdered by her worker bees in a procedure called ‘balling’. She is surrounded and covered by the other honeybees until her internal temperature is raised enough to cause death. I don’t know about you, but I expect a bit more from my retirement. 

Royal Jelly – Fit For A Honey Queen Bee

In the story answering, “how does a bee become a queen?” – here comes the best bit! The worker bees create one of nature’s miracles – royal jelly. Royal jelly is the glue that ties this story together and determines how a bee becomes a queen.

Royal jelly is digested pollen and nectar or honey and has a milky yellow appearance. It is high in proteins, in particular vitamin B, lipids, sugars, minerals (including magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron), and hormones. Importantly, royal jelly also contains acetylcholine. This is a chemical used by the nervous system to transmit messages to muscles and control movement.

Royal jelly is the only honey the queen bee will eat for her entire life. Royal jelly is produced from a gland in the head of a worker bee called the hypopharynx. This royal jelly is fed to newly hatched honeybee larva. After three days on the jelly, the larvae begin developing vital queen bee ovaries.

becoming a queen bee

How does a Bee Become a Queen? Larvae To Honey Queen Bee

Time for some drama. The firstborn queen will seek out and destroy any other queens still developing in their wax cells. In the event of simultaneous queen hatchings, there will be a fight to the death to determine who will be the queen.

It would be a pretty brutal affair if humans chose their leaders in the same way.

Now, we have our queen. Let’s called her “Queeny”. Queeny is just about ready to take on her role of chief in charge of reproduction. Queeny is ready to become the real queen of the hive. Queeny, a virgin queen, will head out of the hive on her journey of discovery. This happens between six and ten days after she emerges.

During flight, Queeny will mate with up to 20 drones. If favorable conditions continue, Queeny will go back to her drone mates for the next few days until she is fully mated.

Now Queeny is ready for the next two to five years of her life. She is fully mated. This means she may have up to 6 million sperm cells on board. Two or three days later, Queeny starts what she was born to do – lay eggs.

We’ve nearly arrived at the answer to that pesky question, “how does a bee become queen?” Queeny will be unable to mate if the weather is particularly bad in her first forays out of the hive. This is potential disaster for the hive  If unmated, Queeny will become what is known as a ‘drone layer’. If Queeny only lays male drone eggs then the colony is likely to die. No female workers, no hive.

The Honeybee Queen’s Reign Ends

After five to seven years of laying countless eggs, and an unknown quantity of royal jelly, Queeny’s reign is at an end and she knows it. When conditions are right for swarming, the queen bee will start laying eggs into specially constructed queen cells. These cells are built out from the frame, are larger, and run vertically as opposed to horizontally.

Eventually, these peanut-shaped cells will house the new queen. And that is the story of how a bee becomes a queen.

That’s a Wrap

I hope you enjoyed storytime today and your appreciation for our honeybee friends has grown. Check out some more detailed information regarding our queens here


Happy beekeeping!