Why Do Bees Reject a Queen?

The queen bee is the central figure in the colony's intricate social structure. Her primary responsibility is to lay eggs, ensuring the survival and growth of the colony. Apart from reproduction, the queen bee also plays a crucial role in maintaining harmony within the hive through the release of various pheromones. These pheromones regulate worker bee behavior and help establish her dominance as the only working ovaries in the hive.

Despite her importance, bees can sometimes reject their queen, which can be puzzling to observers. To gain deeper insight into this behavior, we will explore the main reasons behind queen rejection in bee colonies.

Reasons for Rejection

Genetic Factors and Pheromones: Nature’s Selection Process

Bees are highly sensitive to the genetic makeup of their queen, and they can detect even minor differences. This sensitivity to genetics is largely due to the pheromones released by the queen. These chemical signals are essential for maintaining order and cohesion within the colony.

If a queen’s pheromone signature is not present or weak, worker bees may perceive her as genetically unsuitable. This can lead to the colony rejecting her in favor of a more suitable queen. Queen rejection based on genetic factors is nature’s way of ensuring the overall health and vitality of the colony, as a queen with a strong genetic makeup is more likely to produce healthy offspring.

Poor Health and Age: The Quest for a Vigorous Queen

A queen’s ability to perform her duties effectively can be hampered if she is too old or in poor health. For example, she may not be able to lay enough eggs to sustain the colony’s population or may produce weaker offspring. In such cases, the worker bees may decide the queen is not fit to lead and reject her in favor of finding a new, healthier queen.

The process of replacing an old or ailing queen is known as supersedure. During this process, worker bees raise a new queen by feeding a selected larva a special diet of royal jelly. Once the new queen emerges and mates, she takes over the colony, and the old queen is either killed or leaves the hive.

Introduction of a New Queen: Acceptance and Integration Challenges

When a beekeeper replaces a queen, the new queen has a different scent profile than the previous one. This difference in scent can cause the worker bees to tag her as an invader, leading to her rejection.

To mitigate this issue, beekeepers employ various techniques to help the new queen be accepted. One common method is placing the new queen in a queen introduction cage for a few days, allowing the colony to get used to her scent. Another technique involves removing the old queen and waiting for 24 hours before introducing the new queen, which gives the colony time to realize their queen is gone and become more receptive to a new one.

queen bee

How Do You Know if a Colony Has Rejected the Queen?

Detecting whether bees have rejected their queen requires careful observation of the colony’s behavior. Some signs that bees may have rejected their queen include:

  1. Increased Agitation: If the bees are agitated, with a significant increase in buzzing or erratic movements, this could indicate that the queen is not present or has been rejected.
  2. Lack of Brood: A healthy queen is responsible for laying eggs and maintaining the colony’s population. If you notice a lack of brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae) in the hive, it could be a sign that the queen is not performing her duties and has been rejected.
  3. Queen Cells: When bees are preparing to replace their queen, they create special cells called queen cells. These are larger than regular worker bee cells and have a distinct peanut shape. The presence of queen cells can indicate that the bees are attempting to replace the queen, signaling her rejection.

How Long Does It Take for Bees to Accept a New Queen?

Factors Affecting Acceptance Time

The time it takes for a bee colony to accept a new queen can vary based on several factors, including the colony’s overall health, the method used for queen introduction, and the new queen’s pheromone levels. In general, the acceptance process can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Introduction Techniques and Timeframes

Different techniques for introducing a new queen to a colony can affect the amount of time it takes for the bees to accept her. Some common methods and their timeframes include:

  1. Queen Introduction Cage: Placing the new queen in a queen introduction cage can help the colony get used to her scent. This method generally takes 3-7 days for the bees to accept the new queen.
  2. Candy Release Method: Some beekeepers use a candy plug to block the entrance of the queen cage. The bees are exposed to the new queen’s scent as they eat through the candy. This method typically takes 3-5 days for the bees to accept the new queen.
  3. Direct Release: In some cases, beekeepers may choose to release the new queen directly into the hive. This method carries a higher risk of rejection, but if successful, the colony may accept the queen within a few hours or days.

Beekeepers must monitor the colony’s behavior and check for signs of acceptance, such as the presence of new brood, indicating that the queen is laying eggs and functioning as the colony’s leader.


These fascinating creatures demonstrate a remarkable ability to adapt and make decisions that ensure the well-being and survival of their colony. Understanding the reasons bees reject a queen helps us appreciate the complex social structures and behaviors within a hive.

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