Queen reigns supreme in the hive
By M. Scott Morris
Bees run one of the most organized operations in the world.
That may be because the females do all the work, and the males are only good for sex.
“It all revolves around the queen. She’s the egg-layer,” said Tupelo beekeeper Steve Green.
If you don’t mind walking through a swarm of yellow and black honey bees, finding the queen isn’t much of a chore. By far the biggest bee in the hive, she has an extended abdomen that’s good for laying eggs and furthering the species.
The queen also sets the mood of the hive. If she’s having a bad day, no one in the hive is happy.
“You want to have a gentle queen who lays a lot of eggs,” said Carl Isbell, a resident of the Bissell Community who’s been keeping bees for more than 30 years.
If your queen is gentle, she’ll pass those traits on to her offspring, resulting in a calmer hive, Isbell said. That’s why beekeepers will often kill the queen of a wild hive and replace her with a pretender to the throne.
“If you put a strange queen in with strange bees, they’ll probably kill her,” warned Holder Homan of the Bissell Community.
Beekeepers place the queen in her own screened-in box. During the three to five days the other bees spend trying to free their new queen, they can grow used to having her royal highness around.
“But they don’t always accept her,” Homan said.
If the queen survives the introduction, she gets to the business at hand making more bees.
Drones are the male bees who don’t do a whole lot of anything except hang around the queen, currying favor, so to speak.
“The queen takes a mating flight. She’s usually about 10 feet above the ground. All the drones follow her,” Green said.
The queen chooses the fittest of the drones, though the other drones probably aren’t too upset by not being chosen.
“As soon as the drone mates with her, he dies,” Green said.
Now the queen’s ready to lay eggs. The eggs go through all the stages they go through (If you want to know exactly what changes, you can check the “B” section of The World Book Encyclopedia), and in about 21 to 24 days you’ve got a bee.
Young workers start life by cleaning up around the hive. Later on, they divide into different specialties.
Bees at the hive opening fan air to keep their sisters and brothers comfortable. Some bees tend to the eggs, while others seek out the nectar and pollen to feed the family, Isbell said.
“If you see a fat bee, that’s a wax builder. Fat bees are good wax builders,” Isbell said.
According to The World Book Encyclopedia, the average bee lives roughly six weeks, while the queen can live to be 5 years old or more.
“If you have two queens in the hive, they’ll fight until one of them dies,” Isbell said.
Sometimes a queen will decide she needs a change of scenery, so she leaves the hive, taking about 60 percent of the bees with her. In those cases, the queen leaves behind at least one egg that’s destined to someday be queen.
“We try to put a new queen in the hive every other year to prevent the bees from swarming like that,” Isbell said. “When we replace a queen, we kill her.”
It’s not all nectar and honey for the queen mother of the hive. But while she’s in charge, the queen is the center of all sorts of swirling activity as drones and worker bees see to her royal needs.
As Green said of the queen, “She’s everything.”