Beekeeping For Dummies
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For beekeepers, it's all about the queen bee: Is your queen healthy? Is your queen still in the hive? Is she safe? But, what differentiates the queen been from the other honey bees? What makes a queen bee a queen?

queen bee © Konstantin Gushcha /

All female bees start out the same way: from a fertilized egg. After two to three days, the fertilized egg of the bee destined to be a queen hatches into a young larva, just as with worker bees. All the newly hatched larvae are fed royal jelly. A day or two after the egg hatches into a young larva, it’s decision time. A larva that goes down the road to queendom continues to receive a plentiful supply of rich royal jelly, and only royal jelly. But larvae that will become workers are switched to brood food, which is a nourishing but coarser diet of honey and pollen.

A queen takes just 16 days to develop. (A worker takes 21, and a drone takes 24.)

Here’s how the queen’s development proceeds and a few notes for your queen-rearing efforts:

  • Days 1–2: The egg stands on its end on the bottom of the cell.
  • Day 3: The egg hatches and absorbs its chorion (outer shell), and the newly hatched larva lays down on the base of the cell and is fed royal jelly exclusively.
  • Days 4–8: The cell containing the developing larva remains open, and the larva is fed royal jelly by nurse bees. The cell is extended downward and elongated into a vertical shape, sometimes described as looking like a peanut shell. (Larvae destined to become worker bees remain in cells parallel to the ground, and they are fed a different food that causes them to develop into a worker bee.) Note: Day 4 is the best time for a young larva to be selected to become a queen rather than a worker.
  • Day 9: The queen cell is capped, and the developing queen (pupa) consumes royal jelly that the workers stored in the cell with the larva. She spins a cocoon inside the cell.
  • Days 10–14: The developing queen transforms into its adult form. Her body is soft and very Note: Do not tip or jostle the queen cell during this time. Doing so may irreparably damage the queen’s development.
  • Day 15: The developing queen is now less fragile. Note: At this point the queen cell can be carefully moved to a queenless nuc.
  • Day 16: The queen emerges from her cell. Note: Cool temperatures can slow the queen's development, as can extreme heat. Under such conditions, a queen could take 17 or 18 days to emerge.

The empty queen cell will be left with a circular hole in the bottom for a time, then the bees will begin tearing it down.

A virgin queen running loose in a colony is hard to spot. A virgin queen is often on the small side, not much larger than a worker (she’ll plump-up after she mates). She walks quickly and without the stately pace of a mated queen. The other bees don’t pay her much attention — there’s no entourage of attendants circled around her. So, if you don’t find her, don’t worry. A virgin emerging from a cell into a queenless colony is very likely to be accepted — hey, she’s the only game in town.

A virgin queen takes a few days to mature — her wings expand and dry, her glands mature, and so on. Then she needs 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.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

C. Marina Marchese is an author, beekeeper, and honey sensory expert. She is also the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society and the Red Bee ® brand.

Howland Blackiston is the bestselling author of Beekeeping For Dummies and Building Beehives For Dummies, and founding board member and past president of Con­necticut’s Back Yard Beekeepers Association.

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