- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
It's nice to remember the honey bee on Valentine's Day. You'll see many Valentine cards inscribed with "Bee My Valentine" and featuring a photo of a bee.
Many of those photos depict a queen bee, the mother of all bees in the hive.
To be a queen, she'll need to be fed royal jelly as a larva. The nurses bees feed the otther larvae a regular worker diet that includes pollen.
"Queen larvae are fed royal jelly throughout larval development, providing a nutritional stimulus that causes them to develop into fully functional females with large ovaries," writes apiculturist Norman Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.
"Queens develop from egg to adult in about 16 days," Gary writes. A queen usually lives about two to three years, but most beekeepers re-queen the colony after a year.
In peak season, a queen bee will lay about 2000 eggs--so that's 2000 mouths to feed.
"A few queens live for as long as two or three years, but old queens are a liability to the colony due to diminished egg-laying capacity, a principal cause of reduced colony populations and reduced honey production," Gary says. "Their performance usually diminishes long before they die, similar to humans."
Gary also says in his book that egg-laying capability "is not the only measure of a queen's performance. Queens produce pheromones that greatly affect the activities, especially foraging activity of workers. Pheromone production diminishes in quality and quantity as queens age."
That's something that the Valentine Day cards don't tell you. Neither do they tell you that after a swarm, the first virgin queen to emerge from the series of newly constructed queen cells in the colony will sting her competitors so she can take over the hive.
Or, as Gary writes, "Rival queens engage in fierce stinging attacks until only one virgin queen remains. Virgin queens also initiate the destruction of capped queen cells containing their younger counterparts and sting them before they can complete development. This is the only time queens ever use their stingers."
Not a sweet thought on Valentine's Day!