How Long Do Queen Bees Live

How Long Do Queen Bees Live?

The lifespan of a queen bee is rather interesting. She’s the ruler of the colony. She’s also the one who lays the eggs and generally keeps order within the nest.

There are, however, many questions concerning the queen. Is she really that powerful? What happens when she grows old or if she suddenly dies? Let’s take a closer look into the life of a queen bee.

How Long Do Queen Bees Live?

The queen bee is usually the bee who lives the longest within a colony, but how long depends on the species.

Honeybee Queens Are Highly Productive

The honeybee queen has a long and productive life. She usually lives between two and three years, but can live up to five or more, if she’s healthy.

During her ruling, the honeybee queen can lay around 1,500 eggs daily. With such busy days, a honeybee queen can produce around one million offspring during her lifetime. Her productivity does decline as she ages, but it’s still quite an accomplishment.

Within a honeybee colony, it’s actually the worker bees who decide how long the queen gets to rule. As she gets older and begins to lay fewer eggs, the worker bees will decide her time is coming to an end. The worker bees will then begin to feed royal jelly to potential queen larvae.

When the new queen emerges as an adult, she will usually kill any other potential queens in order to secure her place. The worker bees will then kill the old queen. They kill her by smothering or stinging. It sounds harsh, but, it’s crucial for the survival of the colony.

Some colonies allow their queen to grow old, she might still be producing plenty of offspring. In this situation, the colony usually divides. Multiple worker bees will leave the nest with their old queen, they will then find a new place to create a new colony. This is also referred to as swarming.

The worker bees that remain in the original nest will begin to raise a new queen. The new queen will then begin mating and multiplying the nest.

About a week after emerging as an adult, the new queen is ready to mate. She will usually fly out of the nest and circle it once or twice to remember its location. The queen will then fly far away from the nest, in order to avoid mating with any drones from her own colony.

She will enter an area referred to as a drone congregation area. Here, the drones will be waiting. The drones recognize the queen by her chemical odor, also known as pheromone. The queen will mate with around seven to 15 drones before returning to the colony, she’s usually gone for about 13 minutes.

During bad weather, the queen might be unable to fly out to mate. If she is prevented from leaving for more than 20 days, she will be unable to mate, and can only produce unfertilized eggs.

Bumblebee Queens Hibernate

Bumblebees are social bees similar to honeybees, however, they differ in many ways. For instance, honeybees will overwinter together. Bumblebees usually die before winter, but the queen will hibernate.

bumble bee nest entrance hole
Bumblebee nest entrance

The bumblebee queen only has a short life of one year. She will usually begin her life during late summer and into fall. During fall, she will mate, but they won’t lay any eggs just yet.

The queen will eat and fill herself up for the long, cold winter months. She will then look for a nice, sheltered place where she will hibernate. When the warm weather returns, she will gather food, make a nest, and lay eggs, repeating the life cycle.

The old queen will usually produce male bumblebees at the end of the summer, before she dies. The males will then set out to look for virgin queens to mate with. The old queen will then die as winter approaches, together with many of her workers.

Stingless Queens Live Long

There are around 500 stingless bee species, but a well-known species is the Melipona favosa. These queens will usually live up to three years.

Stingless bee workers are known to lay eggs, along with the queen. These are unfertilized eggs which result in male offspring. The workers’ eggs are sometimes eaten by the queen as she replaces them with her own, fertilized, eggs.

In some cases, however, a worker bee accidentally lays an egg where the queen already has. As stingless drone bees develop quicker than queens or workers, the new adult male will eat up all provisions within the cell, killing the female larva.

Life Cycle of the Honeybee Queen

The honeybee queen bee starts her life out like any other fertilized egg, however, the cell looks quite different. The queen cells are larger and more protruding, and look kind of like peanut shells.

queen bee cup

The egg stage takes three days—it’s the same for all the bees in the colony. Once hatched, the larval stage will begin. As a potential queen larva, she will be fed constantly with royal jelly.

The royal jelly will make the new queen grow quickly. After about five and a half days, the cell will be capped by the workers. Inside the cell, the queen will begin to molt, looking more like a bee.

After seven and a half days, the queen will enter the final, pupal, stage. During this stage, she will look much more like an adult bee. Her eyes will begin to form, legs and wings are also developing.

After 16 days, the new queen emerges as an adult. She will chew her way out of the capped cell. The first queen to emerge will quickly kill other potential queens. The life cycle is different for all bees, but queens are the first to emerge.

Summary

The power and influence of the queen bee might be overrated sometimes. As we could see from the honeybees, where the workers decide how long the queen will rule. When she becomes old or her productivity declines, they will usually kill her.

The lifespan of a honeybee queen is usually long and productive, though. She can live as long as five years, although her productivity usually declines as she ages. New queens are raised by worker bees who feed them royal jelly.

A bumblebee queen will only manage to survive a year at the most, and much of this will be in hibernation.  Stingless queens live somewhat longer than this, around three years.

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