Where does the queen bee come from?


Do bees have the same probability of being male or female? What decides if a bee larvae will become a queen? Do they grow up and start a new hive?

In: Biology

Any female can become the queen, but only the one that is fed the royal jelly actually becomes the queen.

They fly off to start a new colony taking quite a large protion of the hives bees with them to the frustration of the bee-keeper who has to go and catch the new queen if he wants to keep them.
The queen is made into a queen by being fed a special kind of honey that the drones make if they are feeling rebelious and the old queen will try to kill the usurper if she can.


Lets start with the fun part: sex

A young queen bee has sex once in her life. She takes a maiden flight, finds some male bees up in the sky and has an orgy up there. She will store the sperm of multiple male partners in her for the rest of her life.

When a queen bee lays an egg she can choose wether she fertilizes that egg. Unfertilized eggs always become males. They are DNA clones of the queen. They are pretty useless, they only eat and if they are lucky get to have sex once.

Fertilized eggs become female. The hive “choose” if they need a new queen. If they feed a female queen jelly during the larval state you get a queen. If not you get a worker bee.

Usually you will get a few queens every year, the new ones will fight and kill eachother. The survival will take a few hundred or thousand of her mothers bees with her and find a new place for a hive.

The mother continues until her sperm runs out and then stops being able to make new females. I’m not sure if in nature the hive would replace the old queen, an experienced beekeeper would.

Commercial beekeeper and queen breeder here: the a Queen and a Worker(female) bee are genetically the same. The difference is in how much royal jelly is fed, and the size of the cell they are are raised in. You can trick bees I to raising a shit load of queens by scooping out eggs and placing them in plastic “Queen Cups”, which the bees automatically raise into queens based on the size of the cell. It’s how the commercial beekeeping industry operates. You can take 10 pounds of bulk bees and get them to raise up to 200 cells in 10 days.

I’ve just googled queen bees and they’re not even that big. I thought they were *massive*, like 20 times the size of normal bees. Does anyone else have this false memory?

Edit: Looks like I may have been thinking of termites.

I have reordered, and regrouped your questions in a way that makes them more orderly.


Every social insect colony is governed by pheromone levels. There are several different ones and as they change the behavior of the hive changes. It is bit like how there is a hormone (Ghrelin) that governs if you are hungry or not. The only difference is pheromones are airborne and hormones stay in their bodily fluids.



In a bee colony if there a right mix of pheromones (the queen is communicating she old enough, the workers are communicating there are enough them to support a second colony, etc.) and the environment is providing the right ques (there is enough honey and bee bread, there enough flowers and water, there is enough warmth) then the colony will begin the process of making queens. To use a human analogy again. If a human woman has spent enough time since her last mensuration, her ovaries are communicating they aren’t too old or young, and her body does not have too much stress hormone from hunger, work, or disease then it knows it is the time release an egg.

Now once a colony has the right combination of pheromonal and environmental cues the process is much more tangible. The workers will choose up to 20 recently laid WORKER eggs and enlarge the cell they were laid in. The workers will feed these lucky dozen or so larvae exclusively royal jelly. All bee larvae get a little bit of royal jelly at the start of their life. It is kind of like breast milk in that it is very nutritious and calorie dense. But the future queens swim in it and get like a hundred times more. Between the better nutrition and the HORMONES (not pheromones) in the royal jelly, it turns the worker egg into a queen.

To use human analogy yet again. An increased testosterone level is what turns a fetus into a boy and by the time the boy is born its reproductive organs are permanently set to boy. In workers larvae the default setting for their reproductive organs is OFF. The increased hormones in the royal jelly changes it to ON and by the time they are mature they are permanently set to ON.



Sadly most new queens die in the comb. The first queen to emerge usually kills her still maturing sisters, and if two are unlucky enough to emerge at the same time they fight to the death. Sometimes the workers will shelter a maturing queen if they are skeptical of a new queens chances, but this is rare.

After that messiness the single new queen goes on her mating flight where she will mate with the drones of her hive and any nearby hives. When (and if) she returns, about half the bees will swarm with her and they will start a new hive. A honeybee does not have to start from scratch like a lot of bee species.



No. The queen has complete control over the sex of her eggs. She determines the sex of the egg by determining whether to fertilize it or not. A queen carries the sperm from her mating flight and uses it incredibility slowly and carefully over the course of years. The vast majority of her eggs will be female workers.

Now the queen does not pick the sex of her eggs based on her discretion. It is based on the size of the cell she lays her eggs. At the edge of every honey comb there are few cells that are larger than the rest. They are called “drone cells”. Whenever the queen is that area and lays an egg in a drone cell, she lays a unfertilized egg that will grow into a drone.

Where the queen determines to go in her hive could be based on pheromones or probability, but no one knows for sure. We do know there is process that tends to keep her to safer portions of the hive.

When they are babies, they are fed Royal Jelly, this makes them grow up to be Queens. (Females). Yes, new queens fly off and create new hives.