Queenright

Queenright. “Of a colony of social insects, especially honeybees: possessing a queen.”

I would love to talk about the potential broader uses for the word ‘queenright,’ but since this is a community gardening blog, I’ll stick to the information I’ve been reading about honeybees and beekeeping.

Here’s the new hive that’s been set up at PPCG by a local resident. To my untrained eye, the bees look all right. I’ve enjoyed watching them come and go and now have a better understanding of the word ‘beeline.’ These gals don’t bumble around.

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Most of the bees in any hive are workers, females who do the work of collecting pollen and nectar, among other tasks. They can, for example, lay unfertilized eggs, which become male bees.

Male honeybees, drones, are far less numerous and exist for one main purpose: to mate with a queen.

A queen (one per hive) will lay fertilized eggs that are capable of becoming workers or queen bees, depending on how they are tended by the worker bees. All of the larvae start off being fed a substance called royal jelly for a few days; then, all the bees destined to become workers get switched to regular old pollen and honey, the stuff of of the plebeian masses. Should the hive need a new queen, the selected queen-to-be gets a continued diet of royal jelly.

The key here is that for the first few days, any larva from an egg laid by a queen can be turned into a queen. As long as there are young larvae from fertilized eggs available, a new queen can be made.

Can you guess where this is going?

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Pictured above, the beekeepers are inspecting the hive at PPCG, searching for, among other things, the queen. Apparently she’s gone. Why? Maybe she flew off to mate and got eaten by a bird or met the grill of a car (no joke, here’s a study on insect deaths by vehicles). The consultant beekeeper (above right) mentioned that around 30% of queens who fly off never return.

So a queenless hive is not an uncommon problem, but the hive at PPCG is looking like it’s not going to create a new queen on its own. In addition, it’s producing no new female workers to keep everyone fed and maintain the hive. I’m skimming over details here; hives are fascinating, complex systems. When one part of the system goes wonky, the whole thing can fail.

There is another option if the queen doesn’t return. A new one can be installed, within another short window, which means the beekeeper will have to purchase a mated queen and go through a process of introducing her to the hive. It sounds tricky, but if she gets installed properly, the hive will be queenright again.


For further info…

More details on queenless colonies here.

Lots of great info on honeybees and beekeeping. (University of Arkansas)

Honey bee waggle dance (3-minute Smithsonian video)

Watch a honey bee hatch (short National Geographic time-lapse photography)

Beginning Backyard Beekeeper (It’s not easy getting started. Growing a Greener World episode)

Honeybee decline (link to USA Today)

Another perspective (honeybees, shm-oneybees: a little vinegar from NPR)

The decline of flying insects (opinion piece in the New York Times)

A bee’s POV? This novel by Laline Paull has been been on my TBR pile.

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