Do you know how many Queen Bees are in each hive?
“How many queen bees are in each hive”, I hear you ask. Assuming you’re dealing with a happy and healthy hive, the answer is one. She is alone, the only one of her type in the hive.
You would assume that this is a glorified and wonderous existence but sadly, the opposite is true. While we live in a society that celebrates uniqueness, I just don’t think I would like her job. Laying your body weight in eggs daily for up to seven years and remaining housebound is not my idea of fun.
Here we’ll take a closer look into the life and times of the queen.
Queens – Are They Really The Boss Of The Hive?
I really think labelling a bee a queen is a bit of a misnomer. If we had our time again, we’d relabel her ‘the matriarch’. Your hive is a democratic system in which the queen plays a vital role but she’s definitely not the boss. Natural reactions to pheromones and chemical signals dominate the hive’s activity. Key decisions like rearing new queens, swarming, brood size and honey storage capacity are all determined democratically by the worker bees.
Your beehive is a democratic system in which the queen plays a vital role but she’s definitely not the boss!
How The Queen Honey Bee Mates Decides Her Fate
On her only journey away from the hive (except for swarming), the queen will mate with as many drones as possible. This happens over the course of one, two or three days. This mating is done while in flight. This is her only shot at it, she cannot mate again at a later stage. If conditions are favorable, she’ll have enough sperm to lay eggs for up to seven years. If conditions are poor – think excessive wind or rain, she’ll only gather enough sperm for one to two years of laying. Once she’s done laying, the colony will replace her with a new queen.
What Eggs Does the Queen Bee Lay?
Two choices here – fertilized or unfertilized. Unfertilized eggs are destined to become male drones. Fertilized eggs go into round two of the decision-making process. The fertilized egg can become a female worker honey bee or a new queen. This comes down to diet. All fertilized egg larvae are fed royal jelly in their initial development. After around the 4th day, the worker bee larvae are switched to honey and pollen. New queen larvae continue to be fed royal jelly. This is how each queen bee can be the only sexually mature female in the hive of many female bees.
What Happens After The New Queen Eggs Have Been Laid?
Generally due to an overcrowded hive, the colony decide expansion is in order. New queen larvae are reared and about half the hive prepare to move out – known as a swarm. This is a perfectly natural phase of the honeybee’s life. The existing queen will leave the hive in search for a new place to continue the cycle. The remaining colony will rear the new queens. After emerging, usually around 16 days after being laid, the new queens (known as virgin queens) will need to sort out who is the new queen. This entails a stinging fight to the death or killing any un-emerged queens.
Can There Be More Than One Queen Bee in Each Hive?
Technically, yes, but not for very long. How, you ask? The general answer to the question of how many queen bees are in each hive is one. But, as with everything, there are exceptions. In some particular species of honeybees, in some situations, there can be more than one queen in the honeybee hive.
If a colony is set to swarm and conditions are not favorable, then they may need to wait. This means that both the existing queen and a virgin queen may be in the same swarm. They can set up their new hive with the existing queen laying and the virgin queen in the mating phase of her life. This is rare and usually, the existing queen is allowed to live until she passes naturally.
Quality further reading can be found in these excellent resources for beekeepers:
That’s a Wrap
Question Answered! How many queen bees in a hive? There can only be one! Hopefully, I’ve piqued your interest in one of nature’s true heroes. The queen bee. She is the only one in the hive and one heck of a woman.