The honey bee queen usually has distinct characteristics compared to other members of the colony. There is only one queen in every colony, whereas the number of worker bees in a colony can reach up to more than 100,000. Usually, twelve worker bees will surround and attend to the queen in her court. The queen is constantly guarded, groomed and fed with royal jelly by the workers. Royal jelly is a type of syrup that is high in protein which is produced by the young worker bees.
The honey bee queen is easily distinguished from the other worker bees by a number of physical characteristics. The queen is the largest in size compared to other bees in the colony. The abdomen of the honey bee queen is relatively bigger and longer compared to that of a worker bee, and it is rather sharp and pointed. Her sting (although she hardly uses it) is also longer and curved, whereas a worker bee has a perfectly straight one (drones don’t have them). The honey bee queen also has no “pollen-basket” that the worker bee has on the hind legs. The queen is also the only female in a colony that has completely developed ovaries. In terms of the rate of growth, queen bees grow in 16 days – the fastest compared to worker bees (21 days) and drones (24 days)
While the worker bees’ main functions are making the comb,cleaning the hive and gathering nectar, the queen merely lays eggs (approximately 1500 eggs per day in warm weather) and secretes pheromone. This pheromone is also called the “queen substance” – chemical substance that acts as a “medium of communication” to her workers regarding her presence or absence. Pheromone prevents the development of ovaries in other females in the hive, as well as keep the workers uninterested in reproduction and making a new queen. Pheromone is also what attracts the drones on the queen’s mating flight.
A honey bee queen leaves her hive early in her life to mate with the drones. she usually goes on several mating flights and then will return to her hive. The queen bee usually starts laying eggs in the hexagonal chambers of the comb within a week after mating and she may live up to five years and lay up to over 1 million eggs during her lifetime. The egg is soft, has an oval shape, has a white color and it will hatch into a larvae in three days.
The existence of the queen bee actually determines the stability and survival of the colony. A hive can only be productive when it has a good queen. When a queen bee grows old, the amount of pheromones will decrease and this is a message to the worker bees that the time has come to replace her with a new queen. whenever a hive loses its queen, and all the eggs in the worker-cells are hatched, the bees will breed a new queen. Some beekeepers, however, make it a routine to replace the queens every few seasons for productivity reasons. This is because an older queen has less capability in laying eggs, making the size of the colony smaller.