How Does a Queen Bee Become a Queen

When we began beekeeping, we knew that there is only one queen in a beehive. We wondered, out of 60,000 bees in a hive, what is unique about the one bee egg that will make it a queen bee?

How does a queen bee become a queen? Recent studies show that it is what the other bees are fed that prevents them from becoming a queen rather than the other way around. A diet of royal jelly allows a baby bee to become a queen by saving her from the fate of the other bees. The future queen bee is fed only royal jelly. Other baby bees get royal jelly for three days, then they are given bee bread. Phenolic acids from the plant flavonoids in bee bread prevent the ovaries from developing in the baby worker bees so they become infertile.

Read on to find out more about what separates the queen bee from the workers.

Is A Queen Born or Made?

Unlike the Queen of England, a queen bee is made. Who makes her? The worker nurse bees.

First off, remember that the workers don’t produce queen cells all the time. I’ll explain that in a couple of minutes.

Three days is the dividing line.

For the first three days after an egg is laid by a queen bee, all bees get the same food and any female bee egg can be made into a queen. After three days the nurse bees change the diet for everyone but the queen eggs, and the fate of the baby bee is set.

There’s another step besides food in a queen bee becoming a queen. That is room to grow.

When the eggs for the future queens have been chosen, the workers begin to enlarge the wax cell that contains the egg. Compared to everyone else in the hive, queen cells are huge. They are about an inch long and stand out visually and literally from the rest of the comb in the hive. Generally, you’ll find anywhere from one to maybe half a dozen queen cells at a time.

Worker brood comb is what you see most of in a hive. It is beautiful. There are usually large swaths of capped brood comb on a frame. The cap on each cell is slightly rounded and they’re generally a golden tan color. Sometimes you’ll even see a baby bee eating it’s way through the cap to emerge as the next generation of worker bee. For comparison, there are about five cells per inch for worker bees.

Drone brood is the last of the three kinds of brood cells. Drones are the male bees and they are larger than the worker bees but not as large as a queen.

If the bees are building cells especially for drones, the cells are bigger around and they are capped off with high domes. They can’t be mistaken or any other cells in the hive. For comparison, there are about four of these cells per inch. If drone eggs are laid in regular cells, the caps will be tall rounded peaks. They look nothing like worker brood.

What Is Royal Jelly?

Royal jelly is the bee food fed exclusively to the future queen bees.

It is made by worker bees, who secrete the thick white liquid from glands in their heads. It’s made up of sugars, proteins, and water. While the queen cell is uncapped, you can see the larva surrounded by this bee milk. Bee milk doesn’t have the plant compounds that essentially neuter the worker bees.

It is made by worker bees, who secrete the thick white liquid from glands in their heads. It’s made up of sugars, proteins, and water. While the queen cell is uncapped, you can see the larva surrounded by this bee milk. Bee milk doesn’t have the plant compounds that essentially neuter the worker bees.

What Do the Other Baby Bees Eat?

Bee bread is what the worker bees and drones eat after the first three days of being fed royal jelly.

Bee bread is a combination of fermented pollen, honey, and secretions from glands in the worker bee heads.

There are also small quantities of bacteria and mold in the bee bread. The pollen will vary, depending on where the beehive is, where the bees forage, and what plants are in bloom at the time. Apparently, it’s the plant chemical p- coumaric acid, contained in or a product of plant pollen, that causes the workers to become sterile.

When Do Bees Make A New Queen?

If you are hobby beekeepers as we are, finding new queen cells in a hive is one of those “Oh, no!” moments. Then we begin to hunt for what is going on, going wrong, with our hive.

There are two main reasons for bees to create new queens:

  1. the hive is overcrowded
  2. the queen in the hive isn’t doing her job
  3. the queen dies unexpectedly

1. Over-Crowding

Over-crowding is something beekeepers keep a sharp eye on.

If bees feel crowded, they get the urge to swarm, taking the existing queen and about half of the bees in the hive, and they leave the hive and fly away.

Our first beekeeping year, we had a crowded hive and we dutifully divided a colony into two, giving the bees a lot more room. We felt pretty good about being right on top of the situation. Not bad for first-time beekeepers!

Pride before the fall. The very next day, the bees from the original hive swarmed anyway, taking half of that hive with them. We had missed seeing a viable queen cell that was still in the hive.

A happy ending to this story is that the bees swarmed to a tree close by and we recovered them, giving us a total of three hives from one original hive.

2. Bad Queen

The queen isn’t doing her job. We had one of these our first year, too.

What this means is that the queen isn’t laying eggs as well as she ought and that her pheromones aren’t a strong as they should be. A queen who is on track lays between 1000 and 2000 fertile eggs a day in early spring and summer.

In the other of our first hives, we had a queen who wasn’t laying right. She wasn’t bred and was laying only unfertilized, or drone, eggs. We could see this very quickly because the brood comb was wonderfully lumpy looking drone comb. Besides these, there were three beautiful white queen cells.

Because the queen wasn’t laying fertile eggs, the queen cells wouldn’t have produced queen bees. Those workers were trying hard, though, to keep the hive in working order. We had to bring in a new queen, and our colony prospered.

3. The Queen Is Dead, Long Live The Queen

Sometimes something will happen to the current queen. Occasionally a beekeeper can move a frame and unknowingly knock the queen off, out of the hive. If you aren’t careful when you find the queen during hive inspection, you might crush her while moving frames around. This isn’t as common an occurrence as the other two situations.

What happens if the queen dies is this: The worker bees will begin to make a queen out of several of eggs that the queen laid most recently. All would have to be less than three days old. Everything proceeds normally from there, and with luck, one of the new queen cells will hatch out a good queen.

Can A Worker Bee Become a Queen?

The bottom line quick answer is “no”

. A queen bee begins to become a queen on day four in its life cycle. Nothing can change a worker bee to become a queen.

However, if a hive is queen-less (not “queen right”), worker bees will begin to lay unfertilized eggs. These eggs will hatch but will create only drones.

We retrieved a swarm that had taken up residence in someone’s empty beehive woodenware. The bees were busily drawing comb and laying drone eggs. Not a queen in sight. We took them home, combined them with another queen-less swarm (it was a strange year) and added a queen that we bought from a breeder. All have very happily combined and have accepted the new queen.

Related Questions

Are all bees male except the queen?

No. Female bees, the workers, are the largest number in the hive. They make up about 90% of the population of a honey bee colony.

The only male bees are the drones, who make up about 10% of the bees in a hive. These are driven out by the workers when winter arrives. People say that this is because they use up too much of the hard-won food supplies and contribute nothing to the colony over the winter. New drone eggs are laid by the queen in springtime.

Can a bee hive survive without a queen?

The queen is the one bee in the colony who can lay worker or queen bee eggs. Without a queen to continue the population, the colony will die.

Will a queen bee leave the hive?

There are two times a queen bee will leave the hive.

The first is when the virgin queen makes her mating flights. The queen typically makes several mating flights to the nearest drone congregation area (yes, that’s really the name of the boy bee hangout). The more drones she mates with, the better she is accepted by her hive.

The second time is if and when her colony swarms. The worker bees feed the queen less food, run her around the inside of the hive to get her fit, then half of them fly off, taking the queen with them.

How many eggs can a queen lay in a day?

If you didn’t catch this up above, during peak season, the queen lays between 1000 and 2000 eggs in a day. During the winter/cold season she stops laying until the weather warms up again and the forager bees begin to bring pollen into the hive.