How is queen bee different from other bees?

How is queen bee different from other bees?

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by David Taylor

Is darker on the back, longer, and more taper towards the end of her body than the common bees; has longer legs but shorter wings, and is of a tawny or yellowish-brown colour underneath. She is supreme in the hive, admitting no rival or equal; and is armed with a sting, somewhat more curved in form than that of the common bees, which, however, she rarely uses. Where she goes the other bees follow; and so indispensable is her presence to the existence of the commonwealth, that where she is not none will long remain.

She is the mother of the entire community, her office being to lay the eggs from which all proceed, whether future queens, drones, or workers. Separate her from the family, and she instinctively resents the injury, refuses food, pines, and dies. Without a Queen, or a prospect of one, the labour of the hive is suspended, and a gradual dispersion or emigration of the community ensues.

Those who have examined the appearance of a bee-hive, after it has been filled with combs during a year, will recollect seeing suspended here and there, certain small inverted cup-shaped forms. These are the partially destroyed remains of what were designed for the birthplaces of young queens, and so-called royal cells or cradles.

They are much larger than the common hexagonal cells in which the working bees are bred; varying also in their composition, the material of which appears to be a mixture of wax or propolis, and the farina of flowers. Soon after the foundation of one of them has been laid, an egg is deposited in it, the work of completion of the cradle being carried on as required by the increasing growth of its occupant.

When finished and closed up, it presents in form the appearance of an oblong spheroid, about an inch long, usually appended like a stalactite perpendicularly to the edge of a comb, the small end or mouth being downwards, a position most favorable to economy of space in the hive. In number the royal cells vary from four or five to a dozen, and sometimes more. They are not peopled till after the usual great spring laying of eggs for the production of working bees, preparatory to swarming; and also those to produce drone bees.

The existence of the latter, or in some stage towards existence, is an invariable preliminary to the construction of royal cells, the reason for which will hereafter appear. The affectionate attachment evinced by the nurse-bees towards the royal larvæ is marvellous, the quantity of food given is profuse, and they arrive severally at maturity on or about the sixteenth day from the laying of each egg; these having usually an interval between them of but a few days.

Of the young females or princesses, as they are often called, and the mode of disposing of supernumerary ones, we shall speak more at large when we come to treat of swarming. The duration of life in a Queen bee, under ordinary circumstances, is, by a wise provision for the perpetuation of the species, much more prolonged than is the case with the common bees, and some observers have imagined that it may in some instances have reached to nearly five years.

So far as my knowledge extends, the oldest queen bee of which we have an authentic record, existed, in the apiary of Mr. Robert Golding, during the space of three years and eleven months. She died in April or May, showing little sign of decrepitude, judging by her fertility, for previously she had filled the hive with an abundance of brood of every kind.

I am, however, inclined to believe that a Queen is oftener changed than we are always aware of, for in nothing in Nature is there displayed a more careful attention to the due preservation of a family of bees than in the provision made for supplying the casual vacancies arising not merely from the natural demise of the sovereign, but from other causes, especially those involving deficient powers or absolute sterility. I should, therefore, discountenance any attempt at direct interference by the forcible removal of a queen, after a prescribed period, as has sometimes been advocated.

If, however, it should happen that such removal is absolutely necessary, the bees will accept a successor as soon as they have discovered their loss, which is often not till after the lapse of several hours. If all is right the previous agitation will cease.

And this leads us on to a curious, if not unique fact in relation to the natural history of the Honey bee, which though probably not unknown to the ancients, was rediscovered and promulgated by Schirach, a member of an apiarian society, formed in the middle of the last century at Little Bautzen, in Upper Lusatia. In contradistinction to the usual way in which a young Queen is created, preparatory to the swarming season, by what is denominated the natural process, the details we are about to give show that the same thing may be effected by another mode, or, as it is said, artificially.

Whether these terms, as opposed to each other, are rightly applied or not, they at least mark a difference; and being thus practically understood, we shall follow the example of other authors in using them. The fact itself, startling as at first it seemed, has been so clearly authenticated, that any lurking scepticism has disappeared; and, indeed, the principle is now so well understood and carried into general use by the scientific Apiculturist that, in a popular treatise on the Honey bee, our object would he imperfectly accomplished without entering into a few particulars in connection with it.

And first, we have the assurance that the prevalent opinion as to any supposed original or generated difference between common eggs and those laid for the especial production of Queen bees, is founded in error; an altered and accelerated mode as to the development of the egg being all that is needed for the maturation of a perfect female.

That we may understand the method of procedure on the part of the bees, we have to suppose that a hive has been deprived of its Queen (no matter whether by death or design) at that particular period when eggs and larvæ are each present in the cells of the combs: such larvæ being not more than two or three days old, for this is essential.

Could we at such a juncture witness the proceedings of the family, a spectacle would be presented of much domestic distress and confusion when it had been discovered that the hive was queenless. Soon, however, the scene changes to the quietude of hope, for the foundation of a queen’s cell (and as a provision against possible failure, often of three or four) is commenced by the bees, usually within twenty-four hours. They select a common grub or larva, and enlarge the cell it occupies, by sacrificing the three contiguous ones, surrounding it with a cylindrical enclosure; the new cradle of royalty presenting in this stage the appearance of an acorn cup.

The embryo Princess, for such she has now become, is amply supplied with a nurture, supposed to differ from that given to the common larvæ (a point questioned by some naturalists); her habitation in the meanwhile receiving elongation to suit her growth. About the fifth day the worm assumes the nymph state, the cell being now worked into its usual pear-shaped figure; the bees quitting it as soon as the lower end is finally closed. About the fourteenth day a perfectly developed female comes forth, in no respect differing from a Queen bred in the natural way. Fecundation and the laying of eggs usually follow in a few days, the economy of the hive then resuming its wonted course.

The Queen bee rarely leaves home, or is to be seen, except in hives constructed purposely with a view to observation. In such a one I have frequently watched the proceedings, as she has leisurely traversed the combs, the bees clearing a passage on her approach, their heads turned towards her, and, by repeatedly touching her with their antennæ, showing a marked attachment, a favour she is occasionally seen to return. Indeed, in some well-authenticated instances, affection has been continued even after her death.

The great object of her existence being the perpetuation of the species, her majesty seems intent on nothing more, during these royal progresses, than peeping into the cells as she passes them, ever and anon selecting one, within which she inserts her abdomen, and deposits at the bottom an egg.

These are about the size of those produced by a butterfly, but more elongated, and of a bluish-white colour. So prolific are some Queens that I have sometimes witnessed an extraordinary waste of eggs when, as the combs have become in great part filled with brood or honey, she finds a difficulty in meeting with a sufficiency of unoccupied cells.

In such an emergency, impelled by necessity, the eggs are dropped at random, and carried off or devoured by the bees. No doubt an early and productive season tends often to this result, and marks the necessity of a timely temporary addition to the storing room of the family.

The great laying takes place in April and May, when the number of eggs has been variously estimated by naturalists at 200 to 600 in a day, amounting to an aggregate of 50,000 to 80,000 in the year. “This sounds like a great number,” remarks Dr. Bevan, “but it is much exceeded by some other insects.”

Indeed, a wider calculation has been made, in his valuable remarks on bees, by the Rev. Dr. W. Dunbar, who thinks that some Queens (for they are not all equally prolific) produce 100,000 eggs yearly. When we take into account the enormous demand for the supply of swarms, the constant deaths in the course of nature, and the thousands of lives always sacrificed by casualties of various kinds, at home and abroad, I am inclined to lean to the higher estimate.

No doubt as the cold weather advances there is a considerable falling off in the number of eggs, but the interval is very short in which the queen, in a flourishing hive, discontinues laying more or less. “Indeed,” observes Mr. Golding, “it appears that at any time when the temperature is not too low for the bees to appropriate the food that is given to them, the Queen will deposit eggs.”

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