It is an odd fact of beekeeping that the health, productivity, stability, and, indeed, the entire existence of a bee colony is dependent on just one slightly larger bee at the center of it. For hobbyists and professional beekeepers alike, the continued health, and presence, of the queen bee within the hive is of paramount importance. Where things go wrong with the queen bee (and there is much that can go wrong), the hive runs into all sorts of problems.
For this reason, queen bees are a hot commodity among beekeepers, and are one of the most essential products in a beekeeping supplier’s inventory. Not only are they essential for those wishing to establish new hives and start producing honey, but they are also often sought out at short notice when a hive runs into queen-related problems. Before continuing with the specifics of this topic, here is what you can expect to pay for a queen:
Online, you can expect to pay between $25 and $40 (not including any shipping charges) for a good quality, healthy, productive, and well-bred queen bee. Much depends on general health, species, and the specific breeding techniques employed by queen rearers to optimize the bee’s genetics.
Queen bees are the very genesis of the hive and in a good year can lay as many as 200,000 eggs. In this way they provide a constant supply of worker bees which, in turn, increase the productivity of the hive. To put it bluntly, more workers means more and better-quality honey; this is entirely reliant on the queen.
Queen Bees are the Hive Directors
Queen bees are also the great directors of the hives, producing the pheromones that instruct workers and drones alike in their various tasks, which keep a healthy and productive hive. A queen bee will be the initiator of various essential hive activities such as protection, swarming (which creates new hives) as well as – through her very absence – the raising of new queens.
Taking a look on a few beekeeping supplier’s websites, you are likely to find the queen bees going for prices that seem to vary quite considerably. This is because, quite simply, queen bees can vary considerably themselves. There are of course different species of bee to consider, but more than that, there is the general quality of queens as well. Not all queens, even of the same species, will be just as productive egg layers and some may even be rejected by hives into which they are introduced.
What determines the value of a queen bee therefore depends upon all of these factors. And if you are looking to either purchase or rear queens yourself, a good knowledge of why and when a queen bee becomes a valuable product is essential.
You might not expect it, but queen rearing is not by any stretch the preserve of professional or industrial-scale beekeepers. In fact, queen rearing is an extremely popular hobbyist endeavor which can either provide your existing hives with the queen bees they may need in an emergency or build up a surplus for sale.
What Makes a Valuable Queen Bee?
A bee’s caste is determined, during its larval phase, by two factors – fertilization and feeding. If an egg goes unfertilized by the queen herself, it is destined to become a drone; fertilized eggs will become either workers or queens. It is then the feeding that decides between these two destinies. Larvae fed on royal jelly (a special nutrient-rich substance secreted by the mandibular glands of so-called ‘nurse’ worker bees) will develop into queen bees – a process ultimately directed by the pheromone secretions of the previous queen.
This, at any rate, is what makes a queen bee. But what makes a valuable, marketable one? This comes down to several factors, specifically general health, species, and the specific breeding techniques employed by queen rearers to optimize the bee’s genetics.
The health of a queen is of course one of the most important factors. This is normally measured by her productivity and ability to produce eggs at a sufficient rate to keep the hive well populated and even drive things towards splitting and creation of new queens and hives. In nature, one of the reasons why a hive will naturally produce a new queen is due to either ageing or otherwise failing health. On the market, queens are color coded with marker pens to an industry standard – this lets buyers know the age of a queen. A younger queen is naturally more valuable.
Specific honeybee species are also considered better and therefore more valuable than others. With beekeeping being such an ancient profession, there are several species that have been created specifically for beneficial qualities such as placidity, productiveness, and resilience to weather. In the UK, for example, Buckfast and Carniolan honeybees are particularly valued.
Genetic considerations on the part of professional queen rearers are also a significant factor when it comes to valuing queen bees. Queens coming from colonies that are particularly productive and have displayed positive characteristics are prioritized in breeding. So-called “hygienic colonies” (disease free) are also prioritized, and, in the case of the most top-quality queen bees, the negative effects of colony inbreeding are avoided by breeding between unrelated hygienic colonies.
Yet for all the work and fairly complex genetic considerations that go into breeding the best quality queen bees, it still perfectly possible and very advantageous for amateur beekeepers to get into queen rearing themselves.
One of the reasons for this is that a queen, within a valuable colony, can often age or become ill and beekeepers may wish to replace them with a new queen. Doing so involves triggering the cues that encourage worker bees to create supercedure cells for the purposes of replacing a queen. Yet although many such cells are often created, the first queen to emerge will destroy those remaining. Beekeepers therefore often remove these cells before that happens, making for a valuable surplus of queen bees.
Queen Bees on the Market
Having covered just where the intrinsic value of queen bees can come from, it is worth noting what prices they actually fetch. Online, you can expect to pay between $25 and $40 (not including any shipping charges) for a good quality, healthy, productive, and well-bred queen bee.
Within smaller beekeeping communities, however, much trading of useful beekeeping produce and equipment goes on. Queen bees are no exceptions and prices can therefore be quite a bit lower. This is just one of the many benefits of keeping things local when it comes to beekeeping.
Ultimately, no beekeeper can survive without the important work of the queen bee – and there is always a good incentive to produce more.