How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?

Average Lifespans of Queen Bees

Honey bee queen with workers in attendance.
Honey bee queen with workers in attendance. Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient, Bugwood.org

Social bees live in colonies, with individual bees filling different roles to benefit the community. The most important role is undoubtedly that of the queen bee, because she is solely responsible for keeping the colony going by producing new bees.  So how long does a queen bee live, and what happens when she dies?

Honey bees are probably the best known social bees. Workers live only about 6 weeks on average, and drones die immediately after mating.

Queen bees, however, are quite long lived compared to other insects or even other bees. Queen bees have a productive lifespan of 2-3 years, during which she may lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. Over her lifetime, she can easily produce over 1 million offspring. Though her productivity will decline as she ages, the queen honey bee can live up to 5 years.

As the queen ages and her productivity declines, the worker bees will prepare to replace her by feeding royal jelly to several young larvae.  When a new queen is ready to take her place, the workers will usually kill their old queen by smothering and stinging her. Although this sounds rather callous and gruesome, it's necessary to the survival of the colony.

Aging queens aren't always killed, however. Sometimes, when a colony becomes overcrowded, the workers will split the colony by swarming. Half the worker bees fly from the hive with their old queen, and establish a new, smaller colony.

The other half of the colony stays in place, raising a new queen that will mate and lay eggs to replenish their population.

Bumblebees are also social bees. Unlike in honey bees where the entire colony overwinters, in bumblebees colonies, only the queen bee survives the winter. The bumblebee queen lives for one year.

New queens mate in the fall, then hunker down in a sheltered location for the cold winter months. In the spring, each bumblebee queen establishes a nest and starts a new colony. In the fall, she produces some male drones, and allows several of her female offspring to become new queens. The old queen dies and her offspring continue the life cycle.

Stingless bees, also called meliponine bees, live in social colonies as well. There are at least 500 species of stingless bees known, so the lifespans of stingless bee queens vary. One species, Melipona favosa, is reported to have queens that remain productive for 3 years or longer.

 

Sources:

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Hadley, Debbie. "How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-long-does-a-queen-bee-live-1967993. Hadley, Debbie. (2017, March 3). How Long Does a Queen Bee Live? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-long-does-a-queen-bee-live-1967993 Hadley, Debbie. "How Long Does a Queen Bee Live?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-long-does-a-queen-bee-live-1967993 (accessed September 22, 2017).