When talking with children about sex, why do we often refer to it as “The Birds and the Bees”? I can tell you that from what I’ve been learning about how bees reproduce …… it has nothing to do with human sexuality.
Most of the bees in a hive are female. What makes one female a queen when the rest are worker bees is what they are fed (another fascinating story). Once the pupae emerges from its comb as a queen it first goes in search of other queens in the hive. If there are several queens being reared by the colony the one that emerges first and is the strongest will kill off the others and after spending 5 to 10 days getting her bearings she goes in search of mates.
The virgin queen fly’s from the hive some distance and into a zone, often refereed to as a mating yard, where males hang out hoping to meet up with a female. Nature has already figured out the correct distance from the hive she must fly so that she has a higher chance of mating with drones that are not from her hive or surrounding hives, thus diversifying her hives genetics.
Over the course of several flights she will mate with, on average, 12 males, or drone bees. The queen collects and stores sperm in her spermatheca. Once her spermatheca is full she will return to the hive never to mate again. The now mated queen begins laying eggs. From here on out she will lay between 1500 and 3000 eggs per day.
Though that my sound like a lot of eggs please keep in mind that a strong colony, in the summer when necter is flowing, will contain between 60,000 and 80,000 bees. The average worker bee during the busy season will only live for 6 to 8 weeks before working herself to death.
When the queen lays an egg she chooses, depending on the needs of her colony, to either fertilize the egg, which produces a female or to not fertilize the egg which will result in a male. A typical hive will have between 10% and 15% drones in its population.
A hives health, cleanliness and attitude all come from the queen bee. She emits pheromones that drive the needs and personality of the colony. Queens can live up to 5 years but typically beekeepers will replace the queen after a season or two to ensure the health and vibrancy of the colony.
So, next time you hear someone say, we need to have the talk…you know, the one about the birds and the bees…..well, at least you will know better.
Sources for this information:
WA State Beekeepers Association Apprentice Beekeepers Handbook