Friday, January 14, 2011

The Queen's Business

When I visit schools, one of the first questions I'm always asked is "If the queen bee dies, what happens?".  So we are going to learn about the two things that happen if the queen bee gets sick or dies. 

If something happens to the queen bee, the worker bees know within hours that she is not there producing her special scent and laying eggs.  They get to work right away!  The worker bees will randomly select around 5 or 6 eggs from the past few days (if the queen lays around 1,500 eggs every day, they may have a few thousand to choose from) and start feeding them a special food.  This food, called Royal Jelly, is very high in protein and makes the queen bee start to develop.  Since the queen is longer, the cell she's growing in looks a little different- more like a peanut.  The queen bee that emerges first (out of the 5-6 queen bee "wannabees") has to kill the others!  She then goes to mate with drones and comes back to the hive to lay eggs for the rest of her life!
Sometimes the beekeeper helps this process out to make it go a little faster.  Beekeepers can buy a queen from another beekeeper and put her in the hive where she'll start laying eggs very quickly.  Did you know there are beekeepers that raise queen bees?  Let's look at what they do! 

The beekeeper will remove or separate a queen bee from its beehive, so the bees think they don't have a queen (called queenless).  Then the beekeepers select very young larva- about 3 days old.  They put these larva into cups.  The bees then start feeding these larva the Royal Jelly to turn them into queen bees. Once they are ready to emerge, the beekeepers separate them (so they don't hurt each other) and put them into tiny beehives where they can mate with drones and start laying eggs!

"Bee in the Know":  The queen is the only bee in the hive that lays eggs (she'll lay about 1,500 each day)!  These eggs can turn into worker, drone, or a new queen bee.

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