The queen bee is very distinct compared to the other bees in the beehive. For instance, her wings only partially cover her abdomen as she is often larger than the drone or worker bees. Also, her legs tend to be significantly larger than the other bees.
This post will highlight the visual differences between a queen bee and a colony worker or drone bee.
For new beekeepers and hobbyists, finding the queen bee may be difficult. But with a little knowledge and practice, you’ll be able to find your hives queen bee in no time.
What Does the Queen Bee Look Like?
A queen bee is similar to other females in the colony in several ways. Honey bees go through various developmental stages, and so does the queen bee. The stages progress from egg to larva, pupa, and adult.
Like all other insects, the bee has three major body sections – the head, thorax, and abdomen. They have six legs, two pairs of wings, eyes, antenna, and other crucial body parts.
The queen has a long, narrower abdomen that holds the ovaries.
Also, the queen honey bee has a spermatheca that stores the semen collected from the mating process, which she uses for fertilizing eggs.
Unlike honey bees, she lacks pollen baskets because she never leaves the hive to collect nectar or pollen.
How to Identify the Queen Honey Bee
The queen bee is the largest in the honey bee colony. She is generally narrower and longer in size than any other bee in the colony.
The queen bee’s abdomen is near the stinger, in the lower part of its body. In addition, it has a more pointed shape, while the other honeybees have blunt-shaped abdomens.
Queen bees also have six total legs. The difference between the queen’s legs and the workers is that they are positioned outward, making them more visible. Worker and drone bees’ legs are also directly under their bodies, so it might not be easy to spot them from the top.
While the worker and drone bees have barbs on their stingers, the queen bees have an un-barbed, smooth stinger. If you suspect the bee is a queen, you can inspect the stinger with a magnifying glass.
The Role of the Queen Bee
The role of the queen bee is to lay eggs so that the population of the colony grows or is maintained throughout the honey season. This activity is crucial because the fertilized eggs develop into worker bees, forming the colony’s workforce.
Worker bees are in charge of protecting the hive, raising the young, and bringing food.
In addition, the queen bee lays unfertilized eggs that develop into drones that mate with the new queens.
All of the queen bee’s work is typically done in the brood box of the hive. To learn more about brood boxes and honey supers, click here.
Also, the queen bee produces unique pheromones which aid in communication within the colony. The unique pheromones help stabilize the mood of the hive and assure the colony members that everything is okay.
If the queen bee is missing, the lack of pheromones alerts the colony. Her absence is felt within 15-30 minutes.
If the queen is away for longer than a few hours, the colony will immediately begin to replace her.
Life Cycle of the Queen Bee
The queen bee’s life cycle is the same as that of insects, and it passes through the stages of egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Drones (male bees) require 24 days to become mature. Worker bees, on the other hand, become adults within 21 days.
However, the queen bee only takes 16 days. She has the shortest development time in the colony. The queen bee feeds on royal jelly, a pollen and nectar protein mixture.
If a queen bee doesn’t perform as needed or becomes too old, the queen bee is replaced through a process called Queen Balling.
Catching the Queen Bee
Many new beekeepers find it challenging to find the queen bee, but you’ll soon become a pro with a bit of practice.
Besides recognizing the outward appearance of the queen bee, there are other ways to identify one quickly.
For instance, you can recognize the queen bee by its movement patterns and the movement of other bees around it. She has attendants who follow her as she moves around the comb. When she stays still, the attendants form a flower-like pattern around her.
If you intend to catch the queen bee, you need to do the following:
- Start with the outer frames of the hive and check it quickly, then set it aside. It ensures that you have more room to work, and it is less likely that you will roll over the queen as you inspect further.
- Scan for the unexpected such as the queen’s splayed legs. She also moves fast, and the worker bees create a way for her as she goes. When she stops, some of the worker bees stand while facing her.
You can spot her by looking for this kind of activity. Check on all the sides of the frame, and replace the hive once done. Also, remember to leave some space between the frames you’ve already checked and the ones you haven’t checked so that the queen won’t go to the already inspected ones.
And most importantly, have the frames placed above the brood boxes so that if the queen slips off, she lands back in the hive.
Caring for Your Hive’s Queen Bee
Follow the steps below to ensure that you take utmost care of the queen bee in the hive:
- Make the hive as comfortable as possible. Keep the hive free from glue, plastic, lumber, and paint smell. Use lemongrass and anise oil to suppress the smells and odors.
- Control the temperatures inside the hive by installing a shade to control high temperatures and overheating. For cold weather conditions, reduce the sizes of the entrance and exit holes, thus reducing the entrance of cold air.
- Block strong winds to prevent them from moving, swaying, or shaking.
- Provide proper ventilation in the hive to deter the bees from absconding due to unfavorable weather conditions. Adequate ventilation is not only essential for controlling extreme weather conditions. It also helps bring fresh air and get rid of foul odors.
For more info on how to support the health of your queen and colony, click here to learn about Brood Boxes & Honey Supers.