What Happens When A Queen Bee Dies?

In a beehive, everything revolves around the queen bee. She’s the most vital member of the entire colony because she’s the only fertile female. She’s not only the queen but the mother of all the bees.

Worker bees and drone bees serve different roles in the bee caste system. However, the queen bee is central in ruling over all of them. So, what happens when the queen bee – the most vital member of the colony – dies? There are different courses of action the colony will take, depending on how the queen died.

The Role of the Queen Bee

The queen bee has many crucial jobs. However, the most important job she has is to lay eggs. As the only fertile female bee, she lays up to 1,500 eggs per day. She places one egg in every cell.

The quality of the queen is intrinsically tied with her ability to reproduce. This has a profound impact on the colony’s honey production and the overall functioning of the hive’s operation.

Queen failure is often listed as the prime cause of colony mortality and collapse during the winter. Thus, ensuring that the queen’s reproductive ability is strong is essential to maintaining the productivity and livelihood of the honeybee hive.

When a Queen Bee Dies

When a queen bee dies or is murdered – whether intentionally by members of the hive or an external force – the rest of the hive’s population must find a new queen. This is vital to restore order and normalcy to the colony, survive the foraging winter and ensure consistent population growth.

The method in which a new queen is chosen revolves around the cells in the hive:

  • Superseding
  • Emergency
  • Swarming

Superseding Cells

The queen produces various pheromones that inhibit certain actions in the worker bee caste. Failure to distribute these pheromones or lay the appropriate amount of eggs may cause worker bees to supersede her — to ensure the survival and productivity of the hive.

When they decide they want to replace her, the worker bees will build one or several replacement queen cells. The aging or less potent queen bee will then lay an egg in each queen cell. This is the last task the aging and impotent queen fulfills before the worker bees kill her.

When the first queen emerges, the remaining cells are destroyed. This is now their new queen. The old queen and her new replacement can live with each other for several months until the original dies.

Emergency Cells

If the queen dies naturally or is killed, the worker bees reconstruct some worker cells into queen cells. This is typically on the comb area containing the brood and larvae. The larvae are then fed with special royal jelly throughout the entire larval period. The worker bees continue to condition these larvae to become queens. 

This process is urgent and unplanned. Without a queen bee, the colony cannot function properly, as no pheromones are being emitted. The colony erupts in chaos and needs a new queen as soon as possible. Again, these pheromones control the actions of all the workers in the hives. 

Once the fertilized eggs hatch and the new queen bees emerge, they mate with the drones (male bees) and try to kill the other virgin queens. The last remaining queen bee begins to lay eggs and assumes the role of the new bee queen. This whole process takes about a month.

Swarming Cells

If the swarming impulse is triggered, several queen cells are created along the sides of the comb or at the base of the hive. The queen continues to lay eggs at intervals in these cells over several days. The old queen leaves the colony with half of her workers to establish a new colony elsewhere.

This usually happens when the beehive becomes overcrowded and too constrained. The old queen willingly leaves and allows a new queen to be born and replace her. In this case, though, the swarming occurs after the loss of a queen bee — whether it be to disease or old age. Swarming can also happen if the queen bee is aging, unable to lay enough eggs and when the population begins to decline.

Scout bees fly out looking for a new location to create a hive shortly before the emergence of a new queen. The first swarm leaves with the new queen. The other swarms come a few days later. Some worker bees stay behind in the old colony; however, they’re often weaker.

Summary 

Sometimes after a queen dies, the worker bees are not successful in raising a new queen. If this happens, the colony has no chance of surviving long-term. The presence of a queen bee in a hive is necessary for the survival and productivity of the colony. Her health and fertility are central to the overall functioning of the hive and its thousands of members.

When queen bees die, the colony reacts in various ways to try to raise a new queen. The pheromones she emits control the behavior of the entire honeybee system. Without this, the hive ceases to function, and the community falls into chaos, which is why a queen bee is central to the hive.

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