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Quick Facts About The Honey Bee Queen

The honey bee queen is the largest of the bees in a honey bee (Apis mellifera) colony, measuring around 2 cm - that's about twice the length of a worker - drones are slightly larger than workers.


For the human eye, despite being larger than the workers, honey bee queens are difficult to spot among thousands and thousands of worker bees. For this reason, beekeepers mark queens with a dot of special paint on the thorax, as can be seen in the photograph below.

 


As she establishes her colony, she may lay 1000 eggs per day – one egg every 20 seconds - and more than her own body weight in eggs!

 

If a queen is not performing very well (for example, if she is not laying enough eggs), the colony may decide to replace her with a new queen. This is called supersedure.


In a colony of 50,000 bees, there will be only 1 queen, and perhaps around 300 drones (males) and the rest will be female worker honey bees. At exceptional times, there may temporarily be 2 queens, but not for very long. More about this below.

 

The role of the queen honey bee is:

  1. to mate with drone bees (males),
  2. produce eggs,
  3. and to begin new colonies through swarming.

The queen is very directed and regimented in everything she does, from her mating flight to her regular, consistent egg-laying prowess.


Given her central role and even her name, it is perhaps understandable that the layman assumes the queen to be a decision-maker, of sorts.


This is not the case at all.

The queen does not call the shots in the colony
Indeed, she can be considered a central puppet figure.

 

She is the star of the hive, because of her egg-laying abilities, but is controlled by an overall puppet master - the collection of worker bees. Worker bees have the ability to raise a new queen - or kill an existing one - whenever they wish.

 

The queen is only in control of laying eggs and when she is going to lay, though her use of pheromones is a key signal for the colony.

 

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