Beekeeping For Dummies
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It’s important to understand how honey bees mate, so that you can do your best to provide optimal conditions and know how circumstances such as weather can impact your queen-rearing operation. The queen bee has some interesting mating habits:

  • Queen bees mate in the air. The drones fly out of their colonies and gather at a place called a drone congregation area. The virgin queens seem to know where these areas are, and make a “bee-line” there in order to mate. In this area a number of drones mate with the virgin and then drop dead afterward.

  • A virgin queen will take one or more mating flights over the course of a few days or a week. Then she’s done mating for her lifetime. The sperm (from the drone) is stored in a special, tiny ball in the queen’s abdomen called the spermatheca. It is supplied with nutrients to keep the sperm alive for as long as the queen remains productive.

  • Because queens mate with a number of drones, a honey bee colony is a collection of “sub-families.” All the bees in the colony have the same mother (the queen); but some workers will be full sisters (having the same mother and father) and some will be half-sisters (having the same mother but different fathers). This genetic diversity is critical to having thriving, healthy colonies with a variety of traits that help the bees survive.

  • If for some reason a virgin is prevented from mating, there will come a time when she will stop trying to mate and will begin laying eggs. However, none of these eggs will be fertilized so they will all result in drones.

    A virgin queen takes a few days to mature — her wings expand and dry, her glands mature, and so on. Then a few days more to fly and mate, and a few days more to settle down to laying eggs. Allow two or three weeks from emergence to the time when she will begin laying eggs.

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