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The struggles of a virgin queen

Most beekeepers will be very familiar with the stately progress of a mated queen through a colony with bees making way for her ahead and a changing retinue of workers licking and touching her as she goes on her royal progress. But life as a virgin queen is decidedly different.

The virgin queen in this short video clip of the observation hive emerged one, possibly two, days ago. As an unmated queen, she is not afforded the special treatment of a mated queen and she must struggle through the mass of bees, clambering over workers and being walked over herself.  She can be quite difficult to spot even in an observation hive because she is often obscured from view.

She will not go on her first mating flight until she is more mature, perhaps when she is 4 or 5 days old — if the weather is suitable. But I can expect to see her being harassed by the workers as she matures until she is fully mated (which may take several mating flights). It’s thought that the increasing harassment is to encourage her to leave on a mating flight before she gets too old.

So I await with interest to watch for the harassment to begin. Apparently she might even start piping if the harassment gets too much for her because by making a noise she can get the workers to freeze on the spot and get some respite.

Mark L Winson’s book The Biology of the Honeybee, chapter 12, gives a very good description of what is happening in the hive of a virgin queen.

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