The Queen's Mating Flight

The queen flies off from the hive to mate, accompanied by a group of workers. Shortly afterward, she leaves her escort of bees and flies alone to where male drones are present. When she comes within a certain distance of that area she starts to release a pheromone which allows the drones to locate her.

Male bees (drones) waiting for the queen to leave on the mating flight

This journey, known as the mating flight and as a result of which the males become aware of her presence, typically takes place 10 days after the queen emerges from the pupa.50 The queen's reproductive organs consist of two ovaries which produce her eggs, and a small receptacle at her abdomen known as the "spermatheca," in which the male's sperm is stored. This receptacle will play a most crucial role in the lives of bees that constitute the future members of the colony. The mating of the drone and queen takes place on the wing. Following fertilization, the male generally dies as the queen bee flies back to the hive.

It has been established that the queen makes from three to 12 flights during her mating period, mating with a different drone each time. Since the sperm from one male is insufficient to fill her spermatheca, she receives sperm from several males. 51 Following each fertilization, the sperm from all the males is stored together. The queen will use this sperm obtained from the mating flights during her life span of 4 to 5 years.52 There is an average of 6 million spermatozoa in the spermatheca of a mated queen.53

Unlike the reproductive cells in many creatures, the male bees' sperm can be preserved for years in the queen's body without decaying or losing their viability. This is yet another sign of flawless creation in the body of the bee.

Yet the sperm collected in her body do not carry out the fertilization themselves. Every stage of the fertilization of the egg is under the queen's control. She regulates the fertilization by depositing as much sperm as she desires from the spermatheca. (This most miraculous process will be examined in greater detail later in this book.)

A Million Eggs a Year

The queen lays eggs in newly-cleaned cells.
Some 2 to 3 days after the mating process is finished, the queen begins to lay her eggs one by one, in a series of cells specially prepared by the worker bees. She continues the process, non-stop, each year from early spring to mid-autumn, until the end of her life.

During the laying period, a queen lays from 1,500 to 2,000 eggs a day.54 When necessary, she can increase that figure to as high as 3,000.55 Based on the queen's average speed, this means one fertilized egg laid every minute.

It has been calculated that a single queen may lay over one and a half million eggs within a year.56 Given her normal life span, this means that a single queen will eventually lay millions of eggs. In addition, the total weight of the eggs laid by the queen during one day is equivalent to that of her own body!

When the queen is about to lay an egg, she first puts her head into the comb cell and inspects it. Having reassured herself that the cell is empty and suitable for having an egg laid in it, she projects her abdomen over it. She then lays a long egg carefully into the bottom of the cell. As soon as the process is over, she moves on to next empty cell. The queen repeats this at least 1,500 times in a day. Despite the tiring nature of the process, she displays the same care and attention every time she lays an egg.57

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  • 50. Thomas A.Sebeok, Animal Communication, p.218.
  • 51. Edward O.Wilson, The Insect Societies, p.98.
  • 52. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.56.
  • 53. Murray Hoyt, The World of Bees, p.32.
  • 54. Encyclopedia Americana, 1993, p.440.
  • 55. New Encyclopedia of Science, Orbis Publishing, 1985, Vol .2, p.218.
  • 56. Ibid., p.217.
  • 57. Karl von Frisch, Aus Dem Leben Der Bienen, p.47.
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