When it comes to honeybees, the queen lives the longest out of all three castes (queen, drone, and worker). While the lifespan of the drones and workers varies from weeks to months depending on the time of year they hatch, the queen can live for a few years. On average, a honeybee queen will live for between three and four years, but studies have found some queens live for up to six or even eight years! How long the queen lives will typically be determined by how long she can continue laying eggs.
The Life Cycle of the Queen Bee
The queen bee’s life begins in the same way as all other bees in the hive, as an egg. Nevertheless, the development from egg to virgin queen is shorter than that of the drone or worker bee. When a new queen is required, such as when the old queen dies or swarms, prospective queen bees are placed in special ‘queen cells’, which are larger than the other cells. The larvae in these cells are nursed by worker bees and fed exclusively on royal jelly.
The virgin queens will emerge from their cells after approximately 16 days. As there can only be one queen per hive, all virgin queens will fight to the death once they have emerged until there is only one queen remaining. This new queen will then set about killing any other pupae in remaining queen cells.
She must now take her mating flight and will mate with as many drones as possible over a period of one to two days. The mating flight is quite violent and usually results in fatal injuries to the drones. The queen stores the sperm from the mating flight in a special organ and will use this to fertilize some of the eggs that she lays during her lifetime. Eggs that are fertilized will hatch into female workers or virgin queens. Unfertilized eggs will hatch into male drones.
The queen’s role within the hive is to ensure the colony’s survival by continuously laying eggs. Worker bees do everything they can to protect the queen while nurse bees will take care of the queen and the young bees; housekeepers’ jobs are to clean the hive and expand it. Worker bees move through the various jobs as they age and after a few weeks of working within the hive, they will leave to forage for food.
What Happens When a Queen Bee Dies?
The queen is the single most important bee in the hive as without her the colony cannot survive. In addition to being the only bee that can lay eggs, the queen also releases pheromones that calm the other bees and keep them working as they should. Without the queen, the colony could quickly descend into chaos.
If a queen bee dies, the other bees will quickly try to identify larvae within the appropriate age range (less than three days old) that can become virgin queens. These larvae will be moved to the queen cells and fed on nothing but royal jelly. After about six days, the larvae will pupate and around eight days later the virgin queens will emerge. After the virgin queens fight and the one remaining queen has mated with the drones, she will begin laying eggs. The entire process from the loss of one queen to a new queen laying eggs typically takes around 28-30 days.
Honeybee queens live for around three to four years on average, but some can live up to six years. Queen bees are the largest and most important bees within a hive. The queen maintains harmony within the colony and is the only bee that can lay eggs.
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