Virtually every beehive sports its own queen bee, but there can be only one. Beneath her are hundreds or thousands of peon bees, including female workers and male drones. But have you ever wondered what makes that one specific female bee so special that the entire hive accepts her ascension to the rank of queen? A valid question that deserves to be asked indeed…
As it turns out, a bitter and sticky substance known as ‘royal jelly’ plays a significant role in the hive’s crowning process. Queen bees can live up to five years, give or take; when she dies, it becomes the hive’s responsibility to select a new queen. Typically, the hive turns to its larval bee selection for a replacement, and upon choosing a few, worker bees produce this royal jelly from glands in their bodies and then feed it to the larvae.
The royal jelly is thought to be comprised of partially digested pollen and a sticky substance that may be a blend of honey and nectar. It’s particularly rich of vitamins and nutrients, and after a few days of being placed on this special diet, the first of the aforementioned larvae to develop will quickly search for and destroy any remaining royal larvae still under development.
Scientists are still unsure how worker bees go about selecting the larvae that will be used in this ritual, but it’s thought that there could be a small genetic difference in some that have royal blood. These larvae are allegedly the most likely to develop ovaries and reproductive organs that will make them into successful queens.
As for the peon worker and drone bees, the queen quite literally works them to death. Worker bees will die of exhaustion after around six weeks, while drone bees hardly fare much better. The queen will see several generations of these bees in her own long lifetime as she lays approximately 2,000 eggs per day.