Malta Beekeepers Association

The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams 
 - Henry David Thoreau - 

Queen Making & Swarming

1. Bees construct up to 20 wax queen cells, which are acorn-like and point downwards.
2. The queen lays fertilised eggs in each queen cell.
3. The young (nurse) bees feed the young queen larvae with a rich creamy food called royal jelly, and extend the cell downwards until it is about 25mm in length.
4. Nine days after the egg is laid, the first queen cell is sealed with a layer of wax capping.
5. This is the signal for a large swarm (called a prime swarm) of bees, including the queen, to leave the hive led by the older bees. The queen has been starved of food to make her lighter and able to fly. The older bees cajole the queen to join the swarm.
6. Eight days later the first virgin queen leaves her cell. Two things can now occur, either the first virgin queen leads a smaller swarm from the hive (called a cast swarm) or she locates the other queen cells and kills her sisters by stinging through the wax wall of their cells.
7. About one week later the young queen takes her first flight to orientate her to her new surroundings.
8. The queen will shortly take several mating flights in which she will mate with up to 20 drones.
9. Three days later the mated queen will begin to lay fertilised eggs.
10. This queen will stay with the colony until at least the following year when she too may lead a prime swarm.

How do bees make a queen?
The development of a new queen is normally triggered by a combination of conditions, such as congestion in the hive and lack of egg-laying space, which culminates in a swarm.

 Why is there only one queen? 
It is not understood (by man) why bees will only tolerate one queen but any attempt to introduce a second queen results in her death. If a queen dies unexpectedly during the summer, the bees are able to make an emergency queen from eggs younger than 3 days old.

How long does a bee live?
In the summer a worker bee only lives for about 40 days. As no young are raised over the winter months, the workers born in the autumn will live until the following spring. A queen can live up to five years; however, for the beekeeper a queen is past her prime in her third year.