The Red Queen

Probably the one thing everyone looking at bees wants to see is the Queen.

Famously she can be difficult to spot, often she will be keen to stay out of the light and of course although she looks very different from the other bees, she is concealed amongst many thousands of them so finding her can be a challenge.

Queens are commonly marked, a spot of colour is applied to her back. This dot of colour not only makes her easier to find, but the colour of this dot is very significant, it tells you which year the Queen was raised.

Queens produced in years ending in a 1 or a 6 are marked with a White dot, years ending 2 or 7 with Yellow, 3 or 8 Red, 4 or 9 Green and 5 or 0 Blue. The life expectancy of a Queen is maybe five years.

My Queen was reared in 2013, so she bears a red dot.

But unlike Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen mine does not rule – in fact the Queen bee is not in charge at all. It is we humans who label her Queen, assigning her the role of ruler of the hive, but in fact she is better thought of as Mother of the hive.

Despite not being in charge however, the Queen can have an impact on all of the other bees. Given that they are her offspring, they can inherit her qualities, so if she is aggressive all of the bees in the colony will tend to be aggressive, harder for the beekeeper to deal with and more likely to sting anyone approaching or lingering in the vicinity of the hive.

Conversely if the Queen is placid, the colony will tend to be easy to handle and not overly bothered by humans meddling in the running of their home. It is not uncommon in the case of an aggressive Queen for the Beekeeper to commit regicide and replace her with a new, hopefully better behaved Queen. Thankfully my bees all seem to be very calm and mostly unfazed by my inexperienced handling.

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