The Birth of a Queen

Learn about the fascinating process behind what happens when worker bees decide their colony is due for a new queen.

Photo from Adobe Stock/meisterphotos

The worker bees are the ones that determine whether their colony needs a new queen. They relay this message to their current queen by forming a larger cell in the honeycomb, in which she will lay a queen egg. A queen cell looks vastly different than any other cell in the brood. It is shaped more like a peanut and can be found in the middle of the frame, or on the edge.

There are two different types of queen cells, supersedure cells and swarm cells. A supersedure cell is made when the existing queen needs to be replaced for health reasons. The queen produces a pheromone that helps guide the workers in their activities. As this pheromone grows weaker due to sickness, disease, or age, the worker bees will know it’s time to replace the queen. The workers then develop supersedure cells in the comb, so a new queen can be born. Once the new queen emerges, she searches for her rival, the old queen; they will fight to the death and the victor will take her rightful place at the throne.

Photo from Stocksy/Paul Tessier

Swarm cells are made when the colony has expanded, and they are ready to swarm (half the bees leave the colony to start a new one) to make room in their hive. The workers will develop swarm cells and when the new queen emerges, a portion of the colony will leave with the old queen.

The queen larvae are fed nothing but royal jelly (of course!) and are fully developed in 16 days. The queen is the longest-living bee of the colony. A queen bee can live up to four years!



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