The Queen Bee

Sep 11, 2008

If you were a queen bee, you'd be laying about 1500 to 2000 eggs today. It's your busy season.

"She's an egg-laying machine," said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. "And she's the mother of all the bees in the hive." During the peak season, that amounts to about 50,000 to 80,000 workers (sterile females) and 1000 to 2000 drones (males).

Worker bees take care of her every need. They feed her, groom her and protect her, Cobey said, "and then they have the additional  tasks  of  rearing  and feeding  her young."

The queen bee is easy to spot in the hive; she's the biggest bee. And wherever she goes, you'll see her court (workers) surrounding her.

Beekeepers mark her with a colored dot on her thorax so she's easily visible. (School children, when asked to single out the queen bee, say "She's the one with the dot!")

On her maiden flight, the queen bee mates with some 12 to 25 drones and then she heads back to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life,  "usually two or three years," said Cobey, who is internationally renowned for her classes on "The Art of Queen Rearing" and "Instrumental Insemination and Bee Breeding."

The queen bee destroys any and all competitors for her "throne" by stinging and killing them.  Unlike worker bees, she does not die after she stings.

Interestingly enough, only female bees can sting. Drones, or male bees, have no stingers (despite what Jerry Seinfeld's character said in The Bee Movie). Their only purpose is to mate with the queen. Then they die.

It's a matriarchal society. The girls (worker bees) do all the work; they serve as nurses, guards, grocers, housekeepers, construction workers, royal attendants and undertakers. It's not surprising, then, that during the summer, their life span is only four to six weeks.

Meanwhile, if you're the queen bee, there's no reproductive rest for you! You have about 1,999 more eggs to lay today.



By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

The queen bee (the largest bee, center) is surrounded by her court, the worker bees, who take care of her every need. They feed her, groom her and protect her

The queen bee and her court

Where's the queen bee? She's easy to spot. She's the one with the dot. These bees are part of a colony being reared by Kim Fondrk of UC Davis. See (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Marked Queen Bee