Just How Do Bees Reproduce?


honeybees

Countless individuals are naturally interested in learning about how difference species reproduce, and it is no different when it comes to bees. However, if you are wondering how bees reproduce, you might be surprised to know that it is not really conventional (or conventional in the way we understand things).

How Does a Queen Bee Get Impregnated?

You might already be aware that it is only the queen bee that lays eggs. So how does she mate with male bees?

Queen bees are the only female bees with fully developed reproductive systems. When new virgin queens emerge from their cells, they fight to the death with their sisters until there is only one remaining. This queen will then fly outside of the hive for her mating flight.

During the mating flight, the queen will mate with up to fifteen drones that have gathered for this purpose. These drones typically come from another hive. Queens do not mate with drones from their own hive to prevent inbreeding. The bees mate in mid-air and the drone’s genitals come out of his body and are inserted into the queen. After the drone ejaculates, part of his genitals are ripped from his body and remain in the queen. They are then removed by the next drone that mates with her. Drones die shortly after mating with a queen.

She will store millions of spermatozoa in her spermatheca (a special sac in her abdomen) and which will last her entire life. She will then choose whether to fertilize eggs when she lays them. Fertilized eggs become female worker bees and unfertilized eggs become male drones.

How Many Times Does a Queen Bee Mate?

During the first couple of weeks of a queen bee’s life, she may take more than one mating flight if required. She needs to mate with an average of twelve to fifteen drones to collect enough spermatozoa for a lifetime of egg laying.

Mating typically occurs during afternoon hours when temperatures are warm. Warm weather conditions increase the number of drones that are flying. An individual mating flight can last from five to thirty minutes.

African honeybees around the queen
African honeybees surrounding the queen

Drones gather at congregation areas waiting for queens. Queens will fly up to three miles from their home hive looking for males to mate with. As soon as she encounters male drones, the mating begins. If there are enough drones about during the mating flight, the queen will return to her hive and will not leave again to mate. However, if she needs to, she may take a number of flights in the first one to two weeks of her reign.

Can a Worker Bee Mate?

Worker bees do not mate, but they are capable of laying unfertilized eggs which, if allowed to hatch, would become male drones. If a worker lays an unfertilized egg, it is usually eaten by other workers or the queen, who will want to maintain her dominance.

Most of the time, worker bees will not lay eggs but if the queen dies and a new queen is not introduced, the worker bees may begin laying eggs as the entire colony is in disarray. If this happens, the other bees will not eat the eggs and they will all hatch as male drones. The colony cannot survive without a queen to fertilize the eggs and produce females.

Summary

Bee reproduction depends on a queen bee taking a mating flight, during which time she will mate with up to fifteen drones from another hive. Drones lose a part of their genitalia during the mating flight and die shortly afterwards.

The queen will store millions of spermatozoa in her spermatheca and will use them to fertilize eggs as and when determined by her. Fertilized eggs become female worker bees, whereas unfertilized eggs will hatch as male drones.

Anthony

Anthony is a content creator by profession but beekeeping is one of his great passions.

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