A honey queen bee is the most important member of the colony. She is the mother of all the bees in the hive. Whether you are a beekeeper or a person interested in bees, you should discover and understand the many fine details about a bee queen if you want to get a clear picture of life in a beehive. Many things about a bee queen are specific, especially her anatomy, her role, and abilities. One of the specific things we will uncover in this article is about her wings.
The unique queen bee’s life creates many mysteries and opens a lot of questions. One of the frequent questions is do queen bees have wings? The answer is yes, they do. Queen bees have two pairs of wings same as the other bees. Although a queen bee has different anatomy from other bees, those differences are mainly in her inner body organs.
If you look with the unaided eye you won’t spot a big difference in body parts except for the size. Queen bees also have the ability to fly and she does that using her wings. The anatomy of her wings is not so much different from other bees’ wings, even the size of wings is similar.
When it comes to size, worker bees are significantly smaller than a queen bee. The average size of a worker bee is about 15mm, queen bees are 20mm long on average. Despite the differences in length, their wings are a similar size and while worker bees have their abdomens fully covered by wings, bee queen’s abdomens are only covered half the way down. While worker bees use their wings every day, queen bee uses them only on special occasions. The queen bee uses her wings for flying in only two situations, during a mating flight and when swarming.
They are special because of the specific way beekeepers use bee queen’s wings and situations when she uses them to fly. Beekeepers use bee queen’s wings in order to achieve swarm control or recognize bee queen’s year of birth. There are more reasons we use expression “wingless bee”, here is the explanation for the most common ones.
Why people might think queen bees do not have wings
Many different factors can make us believe that bee queens do not have wings. The fact that we can rarely see a queen bee leads us to believe what we hear about her and there is a huge space for the incorrect information. We can see other bees daily during the spring and summer but that is not the case with bee queen.
Queen bees rarely leave the hive
A queen is born, and lives with one mission – to be the mother of all the bees in the hive and to take care of the main need of bee colony. Laying eggs is one of the most important tasks and is critical to colony existence. Her staying inside the hive during her whole life creates an illusion that she was not able to fly, but that is not correct.
She carries out her task diligently, but it requires her constant presence in the hive. She spends her whole life inside the hive laying as many eggs as needed at that moment. When the food supplies are good and in the period of the year which requires a lot of new bees, she would lay up to 2000 new eggs per day. Those eggs will become new members of the colony in as little as 21 days. This unwithering dedication to her tasks determines her lifestyle and she would only leave the hive in the following two cases:
- Mating flight
A primary reason is her mating flight. A young bee queen will leave the hive for the first time in order to mate with drones (male bees). During the mating flight, she would mate with several drones who die right after the mating. Bee queens will get enough spermatozoids from this flight and will be able to lay fertilized eggs for the rest of her life. Mating flight is a primary and regular reason for the bee queen to leave its hive, and every healthy bee queen will have one mating flight.
Another reason for leaving the hive is not mandatory but will probably happen. It is called swarming. Swarming is the natural need of honey bees to change their location when the old location does not have enough space for expanding.
All types of honey bees have swarming potential, and this is a natural way of bee colonies’ reproduction. In the swarming process, we will get two or more colonies from the single colony. Bee queen will leave the hive with a large group of bees creating a new colony. The most common reason for swarming is insufficient space in the hive. When there is not enough space for expanding the colony, the queen bee will command her bees to prepare for leaving the hive. In order to leave, and lead her colony usually to a nearby tree, the queen bee will use her wings to fly. Swarming is the second situation when the queen bee uses her wings to fly.
Clipping a bees wings
“Wingless bee” is the expression which people use to describe this situation, but that does not mean that queen bee does not have wings. Clipping a queen bee’s wings is often done by a beekeeper in order to achieve easier control of the colony.
After her mating flight, a beekeeper will sometimes clip the wings of bee queen to prevent them from swarming. The logic behind this is if she cannot fly, she won’t be able to lead the colony outside the hive. Her attempt to leave the hive will fail because she is unable to fly and she will fall down in front of the hive where beekeepers usually can find her with a group of bees around. However, if you want to stop your bees from swarming, clipping the wings will allow you more time to realize that they want to swarm because bees need more time to reorganize after their queen’s failure. Some beekeepers also use the wing clipping technique in order to mark the queen’s year of birth. They will clip the left wing if the queen is born in odd years.
Deformed wing virus (DWV) and varroa mites
Some queen bees are born with no wings or damaged wings due to disease. Varroa mites are external parasitic mite that attack the honeybees and they are one of the biggest threat to bees’ health. They attack both adult bees and the brood. Some varroa mites are considered to be carrying deformed wing virus inside them and can infect brood and bees. Infected bee can be hatched with deformed body or wings.
How a bee queen differs from other bees
The queen bee is the only fertile female bee in the hive. Her role and the anatomy differ her from worker bees and drones. The easiest difference to spot is the size, but numerous differences are hidden in inner organs and she also has special characteristics and functions. All those differences are mostly caused by being fed with different food in the larvae and pupae development stage. Later, queen bees will have different roles and produce different pheromones to communicate a number of things to other bees.
For more information on communication, see this article: Can Bees Call For Help?
Food in the brood
Bee larvae are fed with a mixture of pollen and royal jelly, but queen bee larvae are fed with royal jelly only. That difference in food induces a lot of hormonal and chemical actions allowing her to significantly increase her size and to develop into a bee queen ready to be fertilized.
One of the ways honeybees communicate is by using pheromones. Their system of communication is considered to be one of the most complex pheromonal communication systems in nature. The pheromones are a mixture of chemical substances produced by a worker bee, drone, and a queen bee. Each bee’s pheromone will affect other bee’s behaviour. Bees use pheromones for different communication needs and Queen mandibular pheromone (QMP), emitted by the queen is considered to be one of the most important sets of pheromones in the beehive. Bee queens will use their pheromones to effect social behavior, maintenance of the hive, swarming and mating behavior.
The only fertile female in the hive
Drones are the male bees in the hive, worker bees and the queen bee are the female bees. The queen bee is the only sexually mature female bee in the hive. That means that a healthy queen bee will have her mating flight and will mate with several drones during that flight. Mating during one flight will allow her to collect enough spermatozoids to lay fertilized eggs for the rest of her life. Creating healthy eggs and producing new colony members is the most important function of a bee queen. In some specific situations when the hive is without a queen bee, a worker bee will take this function and lay eggs. A worker bee cannot lay fertilized eggs, and only drones will hatch from this unfertilized eggs.
Interesting fact – Queen bee can sing
One of the most interesting things in the queen bee’s behaving is her singing action. In a specific situation, the queen bee will go between the bees and produce strange sound, not expected to be heard from a bee. This action is called queen bee’s singing and it sounds more like some other animal than a bee.
Can bees grow their wings back?
We have written an article on this very idea. Find the answer here: Can bees grow their wings back?
Does bee queen sting
All female bees in the hive have the ability to sting. Worker bees have a barbed sting which allows them to sting only once in their life. When they penetrate the target’s skin or another surface, they won’t be able to pull the sting out so they leave part of their inner organs with the sting. They can fly away but will die right after. The mechanism which stays in the target’s body with the sting will continue to pump the venom into target even after the bee flies away.
A Queen bee has different anatomy and her sting is different. She has the ability to sting but most of them do not ever do that. Her sting is smooth and she would be able to sting multiple times.
How long queen bee lives
A Queen bee lives much longer than a worker bee. Life of all bees is determined by activities which they do during life. If a beekeeper forces bees to produce more wax or if they are moved to different sources of food constantly in order to get more products, those bees will have a shorter life. In a normal situation, the “summer worker bee” will live approximately 42 days, and a “winter worker bee” will live for a few months. Everything was designed by nature so winter worker bee can survive the winter and bring new summer worker bees to life when the time comes.
The Queen bee has a longer life and in normal circumstances, she lives approximately 5 years. Her productivity will decline as she ages, and her productive life span is considered to be up to 3 years. Older queen bees have increased swarming potential so beekeepers avoid having older queen bees due to swarming risk and also reduced productivity.