The queen bee, also called the queen bee or the hive mother, is the only sexually mature female in the honey bee colony. Her abdomen is significantly longer than those of the other two phenotypes, the drone and the worker bee, and increases slightly in volume during life. Several fully developed egg tubes (ovaries) are present in the abdomen. The function of the queen is to lay eggs and pheromone control of hive life to maintain the colony. Like the workers, the queen also has a stinger, but only uses it to kill rivals before the nuptial flight.

Queen bees are produced when the colony divides via swarming, or when the previous queen has died or is replaced for reasons of age (lack of pheromone); the latter is called re-creation.

Development, like that of the worker bees, takes place from fertilised eggs. The young queens are initially ordinary sisters of the worker bees and are related to them by up to 75 %.

In contrast to the larvae of the worker bees, however, queens are fed for the entire duration of the larval stage with a food juice produced by the nurse bees in special head glands, the royal jelly, and are reared in their own, vertically (instead of horizontally) oriented queen cells. These are created by the hive bees either on the honeycomb by reconstruction (re-creation cells) or specially placed on the lower edges of the honeycomb (swarm cells). The decision to produce new queens is made by the worker bees when the concentration of certain pheromones falls below a certain threshold. This process usually occurs when the colonies are growing strongly or when the queen is defective.

Evolutionary biology explains this behaviour in such a way that the rearing of a new queen is the only possibility for the (infertile) worker bees to transport their own gene pool into the next generation. The empirically observed altruism of the workers is also explained in this way.

Mating and lifespan

Young queens fly out once or several times at the age of one to two weeks to mate with up to 12 drones. During these nuptial flights at so-called drone collection sites, they take up the seed of the drones in their seminal vesicle. This is sufficient for a lifetime of up to four years. When the seed supply runs out, the queen lays more unfertilised eggs, from which drones develop. During the growing season, when fresh brood is available, such a queen is replaced by the colony through replenishment.
The queen mates with several drones from different colonies during the nuptial flight. Since she thus receives mixed sperm, her diploid offspring, the workers of a colony, break down into different lineages, the so-called fractions. This means that the workers of different fractions are not 75% related to each other and thus have slightly different behavioural characteristics, which gives the colony a higher fitness than would be possible if the queen mated with only one drone. Thus, certain factions may respond better to conditions than other factions, depending on which behavioural genes they possess.

Laying performance

The colony strength of a bee colony varies throughout the year. In the bees of temperate regions, it is at its minimum in early spring and reaches its maximum around the summer solstice. In the case of the highly individual breeds of the Western honey bee, e.g. the Buckfast bee, this can be 50,000 animals. To coincide with this, the queen starts laying eggs after a winter break, when 10 degrees or more have been reached on three consecutive days, usually around the middle/end of February (northern hemisphere), and reaches peaks of up to 2000 eggs a day towards the end of May - more than her own body weight.

Pheromone source

In addition to her main task of laying eggs during the growing season, the queen releases a substance called queen substance through her mandibles. This contains a pheromone that inhibits the other females, the worker bees, in their sexuality and ensures the well-being of the entire insect colony.

For example, the bees notice within a short time from the absence of these pheromones that their queen has died or been lost through beekeeping intervention. If this happens at a time when brood is available, the bees begin to convert some brood cells from young worker larvae to queen cells and, due to the different nutrition, grow new queens in them as replacements ("re-creation").

Text source: Wikipedia