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.
There are only a few ways that a queen bee is introduced to a hive and none of them are via election. In some instances, an aging queen will leave the hive and several of her daughters will be selected pre-birth as potential candidates for the next generation’s royal insect. In other cases, possible potential queens are chosen by a human beekeeper or worse, the workers themselves, who are often cousins or even sisters of the forming larvae. This is in no way, shape, or form a compliment.
The chosen candidate will most likely die prior to reigning over the colony. In the event that she lives, she will be exposed to cruelty within the first couple of days of being born and the cycle won’t end until she dies.
Have you ever wondered why a queen bee is so much larger than the workers and drones? Well, as it turns out, she isn’t just greedily devouring more than her share of the food. Nor is she born genetically different than her peers. The horrifying truth is that she’s being force-fed a concoction known as royal jelly and she’s being given way more than her share against her will. This causes her to become large and sluggish when compared to the bees around her and also gives her that recognizable “queen bee” look.
Since several virgin candidates are pre-selected for this life of hellish grandeur, the competition for survival starts pretty young. And by young, we mean, pre-birth. The old queen lays eggs for potential queen bees (called "virgin queens") in special called "queen cups," larger versions of the cells in which regular eggs are deposited. If a cell has been entered through the side, it’s pretty safe to assume that one of the infant queen-bee-elects slaughtered a rival candidate right as it was being born. Even insects are in a race for the throne.
Once you’ve been picked for the life of queen-hood, there’s pretty much no turning back. Virgin queens are equipped with unstoppable stingers that are not barbed like the ones on the worker bees. This means they can sting one another repeatedly until somebody dies. In order to live, virgin bees must travel around the hive, calling each other out and fighting to the death until only one virgin queen remains. Talk about a heavy price for a crown.