Honeybees are social insects. That means that they live in colonies like ants and termites. There can be thousands of workers in a honeybee colony and they all have important duties. However, the queen is the central figure in the daily life of the colony. If something happens to the queen, the colony must develop another queen quickly or the colony will perish.
During the summer, a worker only lives about six weeks, so there must be a large number of immature bees developing to replace the workers that die. The queen is the only bee in the colony that produces the eggs that develop into workers.
The queen lives about five years. During that time, she produces almost a quarter of a million eggs. She produces the eggs one-by-one. She places each egg into a separate cell in the brood comb. This is the nursery area of the hive. In a single day, the queen can produce more than 1,000 eggs.
If the queen does not fertilize the egg, it develops into a male, or drone bee. If she fertilizes the egg, it will become a female honeybee – either a worker or a new queen.
The queen produces special chemicals, called pheromones. She uses these to limit the number of new queens that develop. When the colony becomes too large, the queen allows new queens to develop.
When the new queens have become adults, they compete for authority. The strongest one becomes queen and the rest die. The old queen leaves the nest to start a new colony. A large number of workers leave with her. These migrations happen once or twice each year.
If the queen dies suddenly or becomes too weak to produce eggs, the workers select a larva to be the new queen. The workers feed the larva a special substance from glands on their heads. The substance, called “royal jelly” causes the larva to develop functioning ovaries as it develops. When this new queen becomes an adult, she flies out of the nest and finds a mate. After mating, she returns to the nest and begins to produce eggs.
Unlike wasps, honeybee colonies live through the winter. The bees stay inside the nest and eat the honey that was stored during the summer. When spring arrives, the workers begin to gather pollen and bring it into the nest. This signals the queen that it is time to start producing eggs again.