The Queen Bee: Her Importance and Characteristics

Queen bee in the center. It's larger than other worker bees and it's marked by blue paint

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The queen bee is the center of attention in every beehive. Her role is paramount and without her, it would almost be impossible to grow your beekeeping business. The queen bee guarantees a seamless turnover of bees in the colony and is the only reproducing bee in the colony. Therefore, the absence of the queen bee will inevitably lead to colony collapse. As a beekeeper, it is therefore important to know the characteristics of the queen bee for easy monitoring of her whereabouts, health, and productivity. The queen is usually marked using different colors after identification to earmark the year they belong to. And of course, the queen bee is the only bee with a mark to make subsequent checks easy.

Role and Types of Queen Bees

The queen bee’s main role in the colony is laying fertilized eggs. This is her role throughout her existence. She will be solely devoted to this role, staying in the dark for the rest of her life, after completing the mating flight.

The queen bee is also a unifying factor in the colony with the use of chemical excretions or pheromones. Devoted worker bees constantly follow the queen bee, caressing her and distributing the real pheromones over the entire colony. This helps transmit information regarding the queen’s health and will prevent worker bees from developing ovaries. The pheromones also attract drones during mating flights.

Queen bees can be categorized into three types depending on the colony’s needs:

Swarm queens

This will happen with colonies that tend to be prone to swarming. A number of queen bees will develop but only one will be left behind as the rest will split the colony and move out.

Rescue queens

This refers to queen bees that are created during emergency situations. For instance, a new queen will be created when the existing queen dies unexpectedly. The queen might also disappear for any other reason, which could be predator invasion or any other reason.

Replacement queen

This is more common and it occurs when the existing queen is no longer productive or old. If this happens, the workers will create a new queen cell and nurture the future queen by feeding her solely on royal jelly.

Behavioral Attributes of the Queen Bee

The queen bee can be identified by her behavior. A close look at the honey bee colony can give clues about the queen bee.

The first sign is the tendency of the queen bee to stay still at one point. She might move a little from one cell to the other once in a while, but she stays still most of the time. The rest of the honeybees can be seen moving about all the time, but that is not the case with the queen bee.

You can also identify the queen bee when she moves. The worker bees will make way for the queen and will step aside to provide enough room for the queen to move.

Physical Attributes of the Queen Bee

In addition to behavior, queen bees can be identified through their physical attributes. Some of the ways to know a queen bee include:

Long Abdomen

This is the first and most striking physical attribute of a queen bee. The elongated abdomen of a queen bee makes her wings appear undersized. However, this is not the case since the wings are the same size as those of worker bees.

The queen bee’s abdomen is longer than the rest of the bees and her wings do not go beyond its abdomen. Though some worker bees are larger than others and can be mistaken for drone or queen bees, their wings tend to reach the end of their abdomen.

Extra Long Legs

Queen bees have extra long legs when compared to other types of bees in a colony, and they are light-colored or golden. In exceptional cases, the queen bee might have dark legs but these tend to be longer, unlike the dark and short legs of worker and drone bees.

The queen bee will easily spread her long legs when not in motion, and her hind legs do not have a concave feature used for collecting pollen as is common with worker bees.

Lack of Hair on the Back

Queen bees do not have hairs on their back like other types of bees. The drone and worker bees have fuzzy backs.

The queen bee’s back is smooth, shiny, and black in color and is conspicuous. A close look through the honeybee colony allows you to easily identify the queen bee by looking at her back. The same feature can be noted with old worker bees with their characteristic bald backs, but they will lack elongated abdomens.

The Queen Bee’s Head

Queen bees have slightly larger heads when compared to worker bees, in addition to similar heart-shaped almond eyes. However, the queen bee’s head has a crown of fuzz which worker bees lack.

Newly emerged worker bees will have a wealth of hair but these tend to disappear as they age. As for drone bees, their heads have little room for fuzz with most of the space taken up by their huge eyes.

Queen Coloration

Queen bees have a variety of shades. In some cases, the queen has the same coloration as the colony and in others, she has a golden or stark red shade that stands out from the rest of the colony members. Most of the time, the queen tends to exhibit an abdomen that is free of stripes, with a few exceptions of stripped queens.

Other queen bee hue variations include completely dark with deep amber stripes, heavy strips, blond without strips, red color, a dark abdomen on the tip, or solid color.

Conclusion

There are so many ways of identifying a queen bee based on appearance and behavior. Her main role as the only reproducing bee in the colony is critical for the colony’s survival. In fact, a queen bee can lay up to 1,000 eggs in a single day. These are the eggs that will eventually become the future drone, queen, or worker bees. Fertilized eggs will become worker bees and unfertilized eggs will become drone bees. New queens are created on an as-needed basis.

About Michael Simmonds

Michael Simmonds is an American beekeeper with more than two decades of experience in beekeeping. His journey with bees began in his youth, sparking a lifelong passion that led him to start his own apiary at the tender age of 15. Throughout the years, Simmonds has refined his beekeeping skills and has accumulated a wealth of knowledge concerning honeybee biology and behavior. Simmonds' early exposure to beekeeping ignited a fascination with these pollinators, influencing his decision to establish BeeKeepClub in 2016. The website was created with the aim to serve as the ultimate resource for beginners interested in beekeeping. Under Simmonds' guidance, BeeKeepClub provides comprehensive information to novices, including the basics of beekeeping, the different types of bees and hives, the selection of hive locations, and the necessary beekeeping equipment. In addition, the site offers detailed reviews of beekeeping tools to help enthusiasts make informed decisions and get the best value for their investment​​. His contributions to the beekeeping community through BeeKeepClub are substantial, offering both educational content and practical advice. The website covers a wide array of topics, from starting an apiary to harvesting honey, all reflecting Simmonds' extensive experience and passion for the field. Simmonds’ approach is hands-on and educational, focusing on the importance of understanding bees and the environment in which they thrive. His work not only guides beginners through their beekeeping journey but also reflects a commitment to the well-being of bees. Michael Simmonds has dedicated a significant part of his life to bees and beekeeping, and through BeeKeepClub, he has made this knowledge accessible to a broader audience. His work undoubtedly embodies a blend of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness in the realm of beekeeping.
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