The life cycle of a queen bee is hardly as glamorous as it the name "queen" suggests. In fact, the reality is quite brutal. Nature does not nurture this royal insect. Instead, the queen bee undergoes a serious amount of trauma throughout the entirety of her approximately one- to five-year lifespan.
Many people believe that queen bees don’t sting, or that they die immediately after stinging someone. In fact, the opposite is true. Queen bees do sting. They sting repeatedly. They also get stung repeatedly.
Queen bees are bigger and stronger than the other bees in their hive, but their shape and size is not a testament to a luxurious lifestyle. Their lives are lonelier than the lives of their fellow bees, and their fate is often gruesome. Everyone they meet during their short existence is either looking to kill them or waiting to be killed by them.
Then, just when it seems nature couldn’t be crueler, humans step in and exacerbate the situation. Queens in human-run colonies are subject to clippings, amputations, and worse. Weak queens are eliminated by a horrifying murderous swarm. Strong queens are separated from their children and companions. And then there’s the egg-laying, the mind-numbing number of babies the queen must give birth to throughout her difficult existence. As you read on, you'll learn that a queen bee’s life is certainly no bed of roses.
The Queen Mates Only Once in Her Life by Ripping Off Her Partners' Abdomens
By the time a queen bee is a week or so of age, she's already had to murder many of her fellow bees in order to survive. Most of these bees were related to her and some were even her lovers. Sadly, she destroys her lovers unwittingly and it’s death by severed abdomen. Yikes!
The mating ritual happens suddenly, right after the fights to the death have ceased. In a practice referred to as "swarming," several male bees mate with the queen while she’s flying through the air. After the two finish their close encounter, the male bee must depart and leave his abdomen behind - and worse, said abdomen remains connected to the queen. By the time her one mating flight is complete, she will have up to 100 million sperm cells stored within her body for use throughout the rest of her life.
After one male companion has sewn his seed and severed his abdomen, another comes up behind him, ripping the abdomen of her now deceased former partner out of her reproductive organs, inserting his own abdomen and killing himself in the process. Not only are all of her ex-lovers dead and her cousins, but they’re also suicide rapists who leave her with something horrible to remember them by---100 million or so sperm cells, which equates to an overwhelming number of eggs.
The Queen Spends Her Life Giving Birth to 1,500 Babies Every DayPhoto: via Wikimedia Commons
As you might imagine, 100 million sperm cells aren’t just going to lay themselves. If things go according to plan, the reigning queen bee will spend the vast majority of her life laying eggs. How many eggs? Well, approximately 1,500 a day is the going rate in a thriving community. However, the operative phrase here is if things go according to plan. If they don’t, the situation can get even worse for the queen and the entire colony.
Queens Can't Mate in Rainy Weather, Potentially Destroying the Hive
Since the mating traditionally takes place mid-flight and since bees can’t fly in rain, a queen bee who reaches mating maturity (a couple days after birth) during rainy weather must resort to laying unfertilized eggs instead. These eggs will hatch into drones but cannot create the worker bees a hive needs. This practice (scientifically known as drone-laying) can cripple or even destroy a hive.
The Bee Keeper Sometimes Relocates the Queen, Exposing Her to More DangerPhoto: Pixabay
As if nature wasn’t cruel enough, things take a turn for the worse once humans get involved and start messing with the royal jelly. In order to keep the human-operated hive communities going, they will often relocate the queen to a different community, forcing her to leave her children (all 60,000-80,000 of them) behind in the process.
If the new hive takes to the queen, she’ll be laying even more eggs than expected and she might even be forced to undergo artificial insemination. If they don’t take to her, she’ll be murdered in a most terrifying way.