What Happens to Old Queen Bees

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Alastair

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This video I shot today, just to correct what most of the books will tell you, being that when queen bees get old the bees kill them and make a new queen. This is a popular myth.

What actually happens in a natural hive when the queen is getting old, is that the bees first make a new queen. When this new queen hatches, her instinct is to seek out and kill any other queen she can find. But the bees protect the old queen and do not let the young queen attack her, at least at first. They wait until the new queen has mated and started laying eggs. Once that stage is reached the old queen is no longer needed and the bees allow the new queen to attack her. But the new queen cannot use her stinger now, because that has become part of her egg laying equipment. So instead, the new queen constantly badgers the old queen, climbing on it and biting it. The old queen loses her hair, her wings, maybe her legs, and in a few weeks is badgered to death.

This is why the two queens are often found close together. It is not, as some think, because they co exist peacefully. It is because the young queen follows the old queen around, to attack it.

The bees do not attack the old queen, and in fact at the end of this video when the old queen is by herself, you can see the bees tending for her and feeding her.

 

Dave Black

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the new queen cannot use her stinger now, because that has become part of her egg laying equipment.
While I agree with the general story, I think I ought to add a correction here. In honeybees the sting never has anything to do with oviposition. For honeybees that is a relic of its distant evolutionary past. Queens, and for that matter workers, lay eggs on a surface from the vaginal opening. Both retain their ability to sting. I'd argue the reason laying queens don't fight is because a) it ain't worth the risk, and, b) they are usually closely related,
so genetically it ain't worth the risk.
 

Alastair

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I'd argue the reason laying queens don't fight is because a) it ain't worth the risk, and, b) they are usually closely related,
so genetically it ain't worth the risk.

I'd add a correction to that LOL, they do fight, as we see demonstrated. Genetically related or not ;).

However to the rest of your post, I agree. What I said was poorly worded, better put, she can't sting any more because that ability is removed by her egg laying machinery.
 
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The old Queen being superseded by the young Queen and eventually killed is what normally happens but sometimes they just seem to live together quite happily and especially in autumn two queens in a hive is surprisingly common and I have seen three a couple of times. I have also on a few occasions seen two queens that looked like identical sisters living happily together.
Over the years I have noticed that autumn supersedure is far more common in poor honey years than good ones. I guess the bees have to blame somebody.
There is some thought that supersedure and swarming are related but personally I don't think it's the case and I find generally that supersedure queens are as good as you get.
 


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