Meet the Queen Honey Bee
I have always found the honey bee extremely interesting. It started one summer day, while at Larry Hasselman's house when I was young. He had received a queen in the mail, and he showed her to me and explained how the worker bees would eat the fondant away and free the queen. And how if they didn't have to take the time to eat the candy, they wouldn't get use to the queen and would kill her for intruding into the hive.
Speed it forward several decades, and I am a beekeeper who is absolutely fascinated with bees. Which is good, because I am not much of a honey person. I talk to a lot of people about bees and they are polite enough to pretend to find it interesting as well. So, I will discuss the following:
- Life Expectancy
- Making of a Queen
There will be a little more discussion into these topics and I would be shocked if the average person didn't find a couple interesting facts in each area. Let me know in the comments what you find interesting.
Long live the Queen
A queen bee can live as long as five years. Which may not seem like a lot, but consider that fact that a worker bee during the summer only lives for five to seven weeks. Bees are hard working, so hard that they work themselves to death.
The queen isn't flying around all day like a lot of the worker bees, she actually can't fly when egg laden. But imagine any female you know being able to live 52 times longer than her children while birthing children everyday - more than her body weight in kids everyday! The queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs in a day, now that is hard work. One requirement to stay queen is to continue to lay eggs regularly and consistently.
The Queen's Peeps
If you ever get the chance, look in the hive. Look frame to frame to frame....to frame, in an attempt to find the queen. She is always in the last place you look for her, unless you give up on finding her. I have two hives, that I find a steady stream of brood in but I have never seen the queens.
But even without seeing these mysterious ladies, I know they have a little circle of worker bees around them - literally. The worker bees that take care of the queen do everything except lay her eggs for her. And how are these worker bees so lucky? Well, they live 7 to 12 days. Worker bees are "assigned jobs" by how old they are. Worker bees have roughly seven categories of jobs they accomplish during their life time. Attendant happens to be a subset of the Nurse Bee and only lasts for five days. This is how the other bees can treat her like a queen day in and day out - they only have to deal with it for just under a week. The nurse bees will actually clean the queen so much that she will become bald.
Did you know all bees except the queen and drones changed jobs?
There are several circumstances that bees swarm, but the simplest to explain is when a hive is getting overly full and more space is needed to keep growing. When this happens the worker bees will decide it is time to have another queen bee. In this case, there is generally a queen cell that is added to the bottom of the frame, or one of the things that honey comb is built on inside the hive. And then the queen will come along and lay an egg in it. The easy way to tell a queen cell is that they look a lot like a peanut attached the honey comb. Check out the picture in the upper right hand corner.
So far this is pretty straight forward and polite colonizing. What I have always thought interesting though, is that the established queen will leave the hive to find a new home with around half the existing bees.
The bees will gorge themselves on honey, the queen will slim down, and then when the new queen is comes out they will leave. The bees will pour out of the hive in a mass exodus and fly around, following the queen's pheromones. The queen will land at some point and the bees will create a ball around her.
At this point, scout bees will fly out looking for suitable locations for the new hive. When one returns and says, "Hey, I've found a sweet pad!" Other scouts will fly and check it out, once there is approval from multiple scouts the other bees will all fly to that location and begin making a hive.
A swarm leaving the hive
Making of a Queen
So queen cells can be made almost anywhere in the hive, it just matters what the circumstances are for needing a queen. If she died and it is an emergency or if it is planned, etc. These factors decide placement and to a degree the strength of the queen. But overall, this phase only means that a queen cell is made and the decision to make a queen bee has been made by the worker bees.
The next part is where the old thought was that a queen bee was created by a fertilized bee larvae only eating royal jelly. And we have all heard of royal jelly, probably. It is said to boost our immune systems, helps Alzheimer’s patients, help menopause, help recondition skin, improve male fertility, and the list goes on and on. I am not saying this is true or false, I don't know and I am not looking for any arguments.
Well, Dr. May Berenbaum accidentally discovered that it isn't royal jelly that makes a queen bee. Rather it is a lack of flavonoids, which block certain proteins from activating specific genes, in this case the honey bees. Before learning this, I had wondered how royal jelly could change the queen bee from other bees.
The queen bee has a smooth stinger and can sting repeatedly, unlike worker bees. She is larger than other bees, lives longer, seems to be more organized and have a better spatial awareness. But Dr. May Berenbaum has created queen bees in a laboratory using this dietary restriction. But because of the restrictions that these flavonoids have, it is an environmental suppressant for the bees and keeps certain genes from becoming active instead of royal jelly activating genes.
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© 2017 Chris Andrews