The Queen BeeThe Queen Bee is the soul of a hive and the only fecund female bee in the hive, having the role to procreate and perpetuate the bee family. Usually there is only one Queen Bee in a hive. It has a long body (20-25 mm), a small head, a very well developed abdomen, small wings in comparison with her body, and a weight that varies between 250-280 mg. Its legs are longer and darker than the ones of the worker bee and do not have pollen pockets. Its tongue is shorter and cannot be used for nectar gathering. The queen bee's sting is longer than the one of the worker bees but it does not have the necessary force to sting a human being. The queen uses this weapon only to kill its queen opponents.
It is easy to distinguish the Queen Bee from the rest of the hive inhabitants. It is bigger than both worker bees and drones but her body is not as wide as the drone's. The back part of its body looks very similar to that of a wasp and its movements are apparently slow.
The Queen Bee is extremely important for the hive since it is the only bee in that can successfully lay eggs. In the months of May and June a Queen Bee lays around 1200-1500 eggs per day. However, the queen bees are able of such performances only if certain requirements are met. These are:
1. a normal development
2. a satisfactory mating
3. a sufficient feeding
If the above requirements are fulfilled, a queen bee can live around three or four years.
The queen bee comes like all the other worker bees from a fertilized egg, laid in a spacious socket, called the queen bee's socket. The hatched larva is fed with a special food (royal jelly) that allows it to evolve from egg to queen bee in sixteen-seventeen days.
After eight to ten days from hatching the queen bee leaves the hive for "nuptial flight". Before this flight she does several space orientation flights so as to familiarize itself with the hive surroundings. The queen knows that if she mistakes the hive when returning home, it will definitely be killed by the inhabitants of the other hive. The mating occurs between the seventh and the eleventh day that follow the hatching time. If the queen is not able to mate during the first three weeks of its life, it still starts to lay eggs but only unfertilized, drone eggs.
Through mating the queen bee receives the spermatozoids it needs in order to produce and then lay eggs. The spermatozoids are kept alive for years in the queen bee's spermatic pocket and they die only when the queen dies, if they had not been used previously.
In the last years the process of queen bees' artificial insemination has been fully developed. In order to do this process the beekeeper needs to have dexterity, which can be obtain only after years of beekeeping practice, and sterilized tools. One advantage of artificial insemination is the controlled mating, since the beekeeper is the one that selects certain drones whose spermatozoids are going to be used in the reproduction process. The biggest disadvantage of this process is the empty sockets which rarely appear in the case of natural fertilization.
After two or three from a successful fertilization whether natural of artificial the queen bees starts to lay eggs. This is a maturation process that ends when the eggs are eliminated from the fallopian tubes into the vagina where they are fertilized. Here the spermatozoids that come from the spermatic pocket penetrate the membrane of the egg. Worker bees and queen bees can hatch only from fertilized eggs. The queen bee can also lay unfertilized eggs from March till June. After and before this period of time the queen lays only fertilized eggs. The queen lays the unfertilized eggs in the sockets for drones.
The Queen Bees do not actually exercise any control over the hive inhabitants. They are important only for their reproduction capacity. Nonetheless, a queen bee is always surrounded by worker bees which feed it and clean the hive area around it. The bees that form the queen's suite distribute the queen pheromone whose purpose is to prevent worker bees from building new queen cells.
Queen Bees spend their whole lives inside the hives. They usually leave it only one for the nuptial flight. In case of swarming the queen bee leaves the hive for good, never to return. A hive usually has only one queen. However, there are cases when there are two queens inside the same hive. This situation occurs before swarming or when a queen has aged and the bees have made for themselves a new, young one. They do not kill the old one, but let it live in the hive until eventually it dies.
If two young queens meet they usually fight each other, until the strongest or the most cunning one wins. No queen tolerates any rival within the hive. Therefore, the moment it hatches it kills all the other potential queens. However, when the bees want to swarm they prevent the queen from killing the queen bee larvae.
In certain cases the bees kill their queen. Thus, if a beekeeper starts work in the hive too early in spring when the bees have not yet fully recovered from their winter sleep, they get so angry that they accidentally kill their queen. If the beekeeper holds a queen for too long into his/her hand, the bee loses its smell and the worker bees perceive it as a stranger to the hive and therefore kill it.
It is easy to make the distinction between a young and an old queen bee. Thus the young ones have the abdomen full of eggs, the wings intact and the head and the body covered with tiny hairs. Queen bees that are more than three years old have no hair, broken wings and they move very slowly. Towards the end of its life a queen bee lays mostly unfertilized, drone eggs.
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