July was a beautiful month for bees and honey making. The combination of warm temperatures and sporadic rainfall has kept the nectar flowing. So much so that our entire supply of honey ‘supers’ (the boxes used for surplus honey) is is use on the hives so honey harvesting must start next week!
It’s also been a busy month for swarms. As we wrote last month, sometimes they are impossible to prevent. Swarms really highlight the role of queen bees. Why is she so important and how does she come to bee?
- The queen is mother to all the bees in the hive – workers and drones – at times 60,000 bees or more.
- The queen has many traits (i.e. temperament, hardiness, productivity, colour) that are genetically transferred to her offspring.
- The queen can select whether to create a female worker or a male drone – she fertilizes the female worker egg but not a future drone egg.
- The queens pheromones are unique and are transferred throughout the hive by all her offspring. These pheromones are also how the workers recognize their own hive and siblings.
- The queen is the one to lead a swarm but it is the collective hive that has already planned it because the hive is getting too crowded.
To create a new queen worker bees select several fertilized eggs and place them in enlarged inverted queen cups they have created from beeswax. (Unfortunately we’re not sure what the selection process is). These eggs are then fed a continuous diet of royal jelly and thus develop the physiology of a queen bee. The first queen to emerge will usually kill her sisters although occasionally she will leave the hive with a secondary swarm.