The Most Important Actor of Honey Making: The Queen Bee

The most important task of the queen bee is to lay eggs. The queen bee is the queen and the true female of all units in the hive. The diploid queen bee hatching from the fertilized egg is the largest of the bees in the hive. It is taller than the worker bees and drones but narrower than drones. Queen bee is darker than other bees in terms of color. The queen is a little shorter than the standard bee size, cannot cover her body, her abdomen is long and become longer in the spawning season. There is no pollen basket on the hind legs of the queen bee. She has a bent bee-sting, usually does not sting people, uses it for rival queen bees. There are no wax secretions of queen bees. She cannot feed the young and prepare food for himself, but the young worker bees feed and protect her. Queen bee is taken care of day and night and special royal jelly is given to her. The body length of the queen bee is 18-20 mm.

There is good cooperation in the hive. The queen bee has a great role in this order. The queen bee secretes some odors from the glands around the mouth, which we call pheromones. Of these pheromones, 9-oxide 2-enoic acid and 9-hydroxide 2-enoic acid are referred to as “sexual pheromones” or “aggregation pheromones.” These pheromones; attracting worker bees, keeping the bee family together, attracting the male bee, enables mating to occur, prevents worker bees from producing new queen bees or thimbles, prevents the spawning of any worker bee, and enables the recognition of foreign bees that can enter the hive.

The queen bee moves slowly on the frame but can also walk fast if necessary. Egg-laying eyes should be cleaned and polished by worker bees. The queen puts her head into the honeycomb eye before laying eggs, checks whether the eye is clean or not, then puts the abdomen into the honeycomb eye and lays in 9-12 seconds. The queen bee usually lays in the middle of the honeycombs in the middle and usually lays at night. During the spring and summer season, it does not deal with eggs, fry production, and egg development.

The eggs are normally placed in the honeycomb eye. Eggs are 0.1 mm thick and 1.5 mm long in the form of sausage or white thread. The eggs are upright on the first day, slightly flat on the 2nd day and completely flat on the 3rd day. They are fed with royal jelly for the first 3 days. Queen bee eggs will continue to be fed with royal jelly until the 8th day. After filling with sufficient royal jelly, the eye is closed. On the 16th day, the queen bee emerges. In a hive, the queen bee is raised to produce a new one instead of the lost queen bee, to replace the existing queen bee, or to obtain a son. The newly released queen bee is not attracted to interest at first and feeds itself by eating honey for 3-4 days until the service staff is formed. In this case, the belly of the queen bee is short, and itself is small. Within 3-5 days following the departure from the eye, it starts test flys, which lasts for 10-30 minutes. She then goes on a mating flight.

Young queen bees only mate for a period of their lives. This period may take up to 24 days. In fact, the desire for mating in the queen bee is reduced after 12-13 days. Queen bees that do not normally mate until day 20 should not be used for breeding. The young queen bees mate outside the hive and while flying, the mating flight is between 12-17 hours, but usually between 14-16 hours. A mating time lasts 5-30 min. The air temperature should be above 20 ° C and free of wind. It is observed that they sometimes go up to 16 km to mate. Queen bees usually mate twice. The queen bee can mate with 3-4 or even 7-10 drones during the mating period. Matings usually occur on consecutive days. But it can be done at different times on the same day. The masculinity seen behind the queen bee after mating indicates that mating was successful. The worker bees, who understand whether the queen bee coming back to the hive mated or not from the masculinity behind her and immediately accept her and take special care.

After mating, the average time it takes for the semen to reach its target is 24 hours. After completing mating queen bee starts to spawn in 2-4 days. This period may vary between 1-8 days. Semen falling into the sperm sac in mating is sufficient to fertilize the eggs to be produced for 3-4 years. The queen bee, who cannot store enough sperm, goes to mating for the second time, but usually does not take another mating flight after the queen starts laying eggs. The queen bee lives up to 5-6 years of age, but a queen bee who has reached the age of 3 starts to lay addled eggs because the spermatozoids in the sperm sac will decrease and the drones emerge from these addled eggs. Consequently, honey yields decrease as a result of the increase in consumer drones and decrease in the production worker bees, hive weakens because the worker bees are not produced, weak hives cannot protect themselves against bee pests and diseases, and spread the diseases and pests to other hives and even die.

For this reason, the queen bee of the hive should be changed every 2 years, that is, to be rejuvenated. Keeping records of hives is the most reliable way of determining queen age. However, it is also possible to determine the age of the queen bee practically in enterprises where no register is kept. The hairs on the chest and especially the back of the old queen bees are shed, their belly hangs, they become bulky, and the ends of their wings become rough. By examining the combs, the queen bee’s age can be learned. If the eggs are distributed or left to the honeycomb, if there is more than one egg in one eye, if drones are coming out of the eyes, if there are not enough worker bee eggs, all means the queen bee starts to age. The attempt by the hive to raise sons may also result from the aging of the queen bee.

Tasks of the Queen Bee

A good queen bee should lay on average 1500 eggs per day. This figure may go up to 3000 in some races. The weight of the eggs that the queen bee can lay in one day is as much as her own. Spawning climate, season, hive temperature, queen bee age, and feeding are effective. The wealth of pollen sources out there affects the spawning of the queen bee positively, and the queen bee adjusts the number of eggs almost accordingly. The queen takes care to lay enough eggs to feed and grow. The queen spawns an entire year, but in November-December, she stops laying for a few weeks. Then, it continues to spawn the amount required. A good queen bee can lay 200,000 eggs a year.

The queen bee lays fertilized eggs in the small honeycomb eyes and lays the unfertilized eggs in the bigger ones. Worked bees born from fertilized eggs, and drones from fertile ones. However, in some cases, when two large and small honeycomb eyes are near, the queen bee may be confused and lay fertile eggs in the big eye. Thus, the proportion of males and females in the bee family is determined by small and large honeycomb eyes and worker bees. In addition, if there is no queen bee in the hive for any reason, the worker bees immediately form a queen bee eye (thimble) and carry one of the fertilized eggs to this eye and feed the queen bee candidate with royal jelly.

Findings and evaluation of the queen bee:

  • When the hive is opened, the adult bee in the hive is few, and if the offspring is absent or very little, it means the queen is dead a long time ago.
  • If there are sealed offspring eyes in the hive, but no young offspring and eggs, it means the queen bee has recently died.
  • If the eggs are irregular and messy, but also drone eyes are found, the queen bee has aged.
  • If there are a queen bee and baby frame in the hive, but the queen bee is laying irregularly, that is, jumping from one frame to another without filling it, it means she is old or she has low genetic capacity.
  • If there is no offspring in the hovel, but there is a queen bee that has not grown too big, it means the hive has changed its queen. In the near future, this queen will begin to mate and spawn.

Under normal circumstances, there is only one queen bee in each bee family. Its task is to ensure the formation of new generations by spawning and the continuity of the colony. The body structure of the queen bee is thin and long, and the color is lighter and brighter than other individuals. Her abdomen is very long, especially during periods of high breeding activity in the colony.

The queen bee is often seen among a group of worker bees surrounding it, who are interested in cleaning and feeding. During the course of life, only for the purpose of mating, or if the colony gives sons, she goes out of the hive. She can’t feed himself. She is fed by the worker bees. Her only task is to lay eggs. The queen bee has a longer beesting having fewer notches than the worker bees. For this reason, the sting can be used repeatedly by dipping and removing. The queen bee uses its sting against rival queen bees.

The queen bee develops in a special eye called queen bee cell, queen bee nipple or queen bee thimble, and the development period is 16 days. Within an average of one week after leaving the cell on a sunny, hot and windless day and in the afternoon she mates with drones in the air. The queen bee, which cannot mate with a sufficient number of drones for various reasons, may take 2-3 mating flights in the following days. After completing mating, the queen returns to the beehive and starts to lay eggs after 2-3 days. The queen bee can lay an average of 1,500-2,500 eggs per day depending on the conditions and quality inside and outside the hive.

The queen bee draws the working bees around with the pheromone it secretes and provides unity and order in the colony. The worker bees, who perceive the smell of pheromones, carry out the works in the colony. At the same time, these pheromones prevent worker bees from developing their ovaries and raising a new queen bee in the colony. In a colony that is left without a queen bee for any reason and has no possibility of breeding queen bees, the ovaries of some of the working bees develop and a false queen bee occurs. The colony is filled with drones and extinguishes, as false queen bees can only lay eggs without fertilization.

The average life expectancy of queen bees is 3-5 years, but they can live up to 7 years. However, with increasing age, they gradually lay fewer eggs and lay more addled eggs. Therefore, in technical beekeeping, it is essential to work with young, healthy and productive queen bees, and the queen bees of the colonies should be changed every 1-2 years.

A Scientific Approach: Worker or Queen? How Is Class Differentiation Determined in Bees?

Scientists have shown that plant RNAs may play a role in determining the development of bee larvae as workers or queen. “Class” differentiation is one of the fundamental transformations in the development process of social insects. As a result of class differentiation, female honey bees are transformed into worker bees or queen bees with different characteristics in terms of their morphological, physiological and social functions.

Queen bees have a larger body, faster development, and reproductive skills, while worker bees often become barren. Worker bees with smaller bodies are responsible for food collection and larva care. A single queen and tens of thousands of worker bees usually live in a hive. Since the genes of the workers and the queen were the same, it was long ago discovered that genetic factors did not play a role in the development of female honey bees in two different ways and that the difference was due to larval feeding.

It was known that the larvae fed with royal jelly secreted by caregiving bees turned into queen bees and those fed with a mixture of flower powder and honey (bee feed) developed as worker bees. Many researchers thought that the substances contained in royal jelly had a role in the development of queen bees. In a recent study, it was found that the plant RNAs, especially microRNAs (miRNAs) contained in the bee feed, where worker bees feed, control the development of worker bees and cause delays in their development.

In the study published in PLOS Genetics, the effect of plant RNA on the body and behavior of the bee was investigated. In order to observe this, some of the bees grown in the laboratory were grown with a bee feed-like food containing plant RNA and miRNAs. It was observed that the growth of bees grown with this feed slowed down to a great extent and they had a smaller body and ovary size. The study also found that a plant miRNA molecule (miR162a) targets a growth-regulating gene called Apis mellifera TOR (amTOR). When this gene is suppressed by miR162a, it is stated that the larvae, the queen bee candidate, develop worker bee characteristics.

Interestingly, when the same experiment was repeated in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), which were non-social insects, miRNAs also showed a similar developmental slowing in flies. According to the study, miRNAs are not the only determinants of class development in bees, but the results are important in terms of understanding the effect of RNAs from outside and living in very different realms on gene regulation. In 2011, Chinese scientists also reported that rice miRNAs could affect gene activity in the cells of rice-eating people.

Incredible Tactics of Honey Bees When Queen Bee Dies: Emergency Queens

The benefits of honey bees to nature and the value added to our breakfasts are undoubtedly undisputed. However, research by scientists has revealed a striking fact about honey bees. Accordingly, honey bees move with a special coding system that is not random when a new queen bee is required.

Honey bees always need a queen bee to build their nest. However, there are occasions when these queen bees die, albeit rarely. So what happens when the queen bee dies in a bee colony? After that, it’s quite interesting and amazing. According to research conducted by scientists, when the queen bee dies, “emergency queens”, known as a small number of individuals from families with a small number of substitute queen bees are introduced. Scientists managed to achieve this by comparing the DNA of the emergency queens with the DNA of the subfamily of the colony.

An average of 92 worker bees and 85 emergency queens from 6 different colonies were examined, the bees were able to identify these royal families through their metadata and distinguish them from other worker bee families and create new queens. The survey shows that the number of families per colony ranges from 34 to 77, which is far above their previous estimates. It is also worth mentioning that these identified families are the best-fed larvae.

How the “labeling” system that separates these lucky larvae from their hive friends has not been solved yet. Because how the royal family is chosen in the life of bees, the fact that bees select bees of a particular cell instead of rewarding their own family members disables some kind of “Selfish gene” approach. Thus, on the basis of acting in the best interests of the colony rather than individual interests, specially coded family members are entitled to be queen. Although we know from previous research that honey bees mate with a large number of migratory bees to bring the queen’s genetic diversity to other colonies, this new study reveals that only the selected queen of the queen bees is the queen of emergency.

Queen Bee Breeding

In order to get efficiency in bee breeding; The basic rule is that the breeder to be used is a breed that can adapt to the region and whose genetic potential is known. Bee colonies, who have lived in each of the different climates for hundreds of years, have adapted themselves to the climate and flora of these regions. In each region, breeds originating from the climate and flora of that region were formed and these races had physiologically different behaviors.

Wandering bees show their colonies all over the country where the flower is, with the idea of ​​getting more honey. Local bees, which are the ecotypes of each region, hybridized with wandering bees during the swarm season and adapted to the regions for years as a result of natural selection of ecotypes have been hybridized with wandering bees. The mating of queen bees during the flight in a 3-8 km environment is a natural behavior, but the hybridization is an inevitable result of it. As a result of uncontrolled hybridization for years, inefficiency and degeneration have been observed. As a result, ecotypes resistant to environmental conditions could not keep their originality due to mobile beekeeping and negative characters could be dominant in advanced hybrid generations.

  • Pure Race Queen Bees

The bees, which are qualified as pure breeds, are distinguished from other breeds both in terms of their original location in the world and because of their physiological and morphological characteristics. Pure races are units of individuals within the species. They have common body features. Honey bee breeds were formed as a result of natural selection. They are the only examples. Each race has adapted to its natural environment. According to the statute of the former Soviet Union’s Ministry of Agriculture, “in order for a race to be accepted, at least 20,000 bee colonies of bees of the same origin and with the same appearance appear to have the same biological and production characteristics. They should not have blood ties with other breeds for four generations.”

Apis Mellifera Caucasica is a race. The region where this breed was originally located is around the Caucasus mountains and this breed has its own physiological and morphological characteristics indicating that it is different from other breeds. Apis mellifera Carnica and Apis Mellifera Ligustica are also separate races and are distinguished from other races by their characteristics. When pure breed bees mate with each other, the offspring constantly show the character of the mother and father, the race of each generation. They show no change in the advanced generations. With pure breeding, the desired characters can be intensified and fixed by having closely related matings within a particular race or lineage. At the same time, unwanted properties are eliminated step by step. Current features are severely limited. To this end, they are raised in isolated areas where no other breeds exist and are kept in a controlled manner by mating in themselves. Pure breeds thus provide a solid foundation for successful crosses. The honey bee is either pure or hybrid. Pure breeding is the basis of all breeding activities.

  • Ecotype Queen Bees

It is possible to describe the eco-type bees as ‘bees, which are a subgroup of pure breeds in smaller local areas within a breed region and have very close characteristics in themselves’. Apis mellifera Carnica breed is known as a race originally found in the Austrian Alps. This breed is common in Austria, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, and many more countries. Here, bees belonging to the Carniol race, the Lower Austrian region has the Sklenar ecotype, and the Slovakia bees are called Bukovsek ecotype.

  • Hybrid Queen Bees

Hybrids occur as a result of the hybridization of two separate races or two different pure lines or a pure line of different races with a different race. Hybrids are generally made controlled and are called controlled hybrids. The most productive colonies are hybrid colonies. In this way, if the improvement study is carried out without error by paying attention to the possibility of combining economically important characters, the productivity of the first generation hybrid colonies is at least 20-25% superior to the parent breeds used as breeding material. However, this superior yield in hybrids can be obtained only in the first generation. In advanced generations, this yield decreases rapidly. There are important hybrids known in the world. Hybrid production is the most technical and advanced stage of beekeeping. The high yield from the colonies of hybrid queen bees is worth the burden, although it requires a very cumbersome and advanced technique.

Basic Rules of Hybrid Queen Bee Production

Rule 1: Pure breeds and pure lines, which are the parents of important hybrids, should be kept in hand.

Rule 2: In order to produce recognized hybrid queen bees, it is necessary to know which race, echo type or pure line the parents of the recognized hybrid are.

Rule 3: The queen bees and the male colonies of the parents of recognized hybrids should be produced in pure form.

Rule 4: In isolated mating areas, pure parents of the hybrid should be kept and mated.

Important world-renowned hybrids queen bees are:

Sterline: Manufactured in the USA in 1949. It is a hybrid of four lines of the Italian bee.

Midnite: Manufactured in 1957 in the USA. It is a hybrid of four lines of Caucasian lineage. The pure line is 130 – 200% more efficient than parents.

Buckfast: A hybrid developed in the UK. Buckfast mother x another father is gruff and moving, another mother x Buckfast father is calm and docile. Buckfast hybrid was found to be 128 – 151% more efficient than the parents.

In hybrid breeding, breeds or lines that will give a good combination are chosen first. In order to achieve the desired result at all times, the selected parental lines are purified by the selection, by making them as common as possible, the desired characters are obtained and fixed. Artificial insemination is necessary to obtain these pure lines.

The mated queen bees obtained by mating local colonies with drones of the virgin queen of a pure race in the geographical area where they live are called use hybrid queen bees. Although hybrid breeding is carried out here, it is not possible to call these queen bees hybrids because the breed characteristics of male colonies are not known and controlled mating is not performed in the isolated mating region.
This type of production is inevitable if you cannot establish isolated mating areas. The queen bees are reared from the Caucasian breed and it is not possible to say anything about the male colonies since these queen bees are mating in the places where there are normal breeds and hybrid colonies for mating.

Production of Queen Bees in Honey Production Plants

We can produce queen bees in two separate systems. One of them is the production of queen bees to meet the needs of our own apiary and neighboring apiary, and this production can be done in honey production enterprises. The second type of enterprise is the establishment of a separate queen bee production enterprise without thinking about honey production. In the production we will make within the honey production enterprises, we can produce queen bees by doing this work in our free time without changing our honey production order.

This type of queen bee production can be started easily without any additional expense in honey production plants. The most important possibility is that the beekeeper evaluates his spare time in honey production establishments so that he can generate income from this production. Another advantage is that there is no obligation in honey production establishments to create separate mating zones and drone colonies. There are enough drones to mate with the queen bees to be produced in honey production plants.

Of course, the queen bees to be produced in honey production plants cannot be hybrid or pure breed queen bees. These queen bees will mate with any race or hybrid bee in the apiary. The first generation of the queen bees to be produced within the honey production establishments will be hybrid queen bees, the second generation will be 90%, pure breeder. Our main need for producing queen bees in honey production enterprises is pure breed queen bees. These queen bees are obtained from the main breeder producing places and kept in healthy and strong colonies in honey production enterprises. Although it is related to the number of queen bees to be produced, there can be at least three and at most ten.

Savaş Ateş

I like eating honey a lot. We have a huge interest in bees and how they make honey. I have visited honey farms. I have talked to a lot of honey sellers. I read a lot of books about them. I want to share my knowledge with you.

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