A queen bee in mid-flight, preparing to mate with drones.
Workers decide which bees in the hive
will become queens. It's simply a matter of the size of the cell they choose (queen cells are
slightly larger) and the sugar content in the food they give the developing larvae: Food for
worker larvae contains about 10 percent sugar, while that for aspiring queens holds about
35 percent sugar. Soon after becoming an adult, a newly fledged queen, which is larger than
all other bees in the nest, makes several mating flights. Typically, she'll mate with 10 or
more males. Since she's the only bee that will lay eggs, this ensures genetic heterogeneity
in the hive. (In other words, while all bees in the hive have the same mother, they have
various fathers.) After the mating flight, the queen stores millions of sperm in her body.
These are good for up to three years, her potential lifespan.
A queen bee (center) stings an unborn rival to death in her brood cell.
If the queen appears to slow her pace of laying eggs or otherwise shows signs of weakening power,
the workers will raise more queen larvae. When a new queen or queens emerge, the old queen
leaves the hive, with a swarm of loyal offspring at her heels; she must find a new hive or
die. Meanwhile, new queens are either killed while still in their brood cells, kicked out
of the hive when they emerge, or battle with one another until just one queen remains.
The newly crowned queen spreads pheromones via her workers to let the nest members know
she's alive and well, and to suppress reproductivity among the workers.