A tale of two queens - and plenty of drama

By Misch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

The long relationship between humans and honeybees has recently seen some downs. Even after some 4,600 years, there is still a lot to learn about each other. For many, the waters are calming down again. But a few bee colonies decide to go their separate ways - towards an uncertain future.

The one-week-old queen honeybee lands on a nettle leaf in the forest. From the natural nest in a tree hollow about half a metre behind her, worker bees and drones regularly fly to her and curiously scan her with their antennae and forelegs. She puts up with it and rests in the sun – after all, she has probably had the wildest hours of her life. A few hours ago, she was still a virgin queen. No longer: during her wedding flight, from which she has just returned, she mated with up to 12 drones (male bees) from other colonies in flight several metres above the ground.

The sperm will probably last for the rest of her life and only queens that are particularly keen to mate will go for a second round on the next day. After the workers have inspected her and seem to be satisfied with the performance of their young queen, she flies back to the nest, which she will not leave for at least a year. In about two days she will begin to lay her first eggs – and will not stop for the rest of her life. If the colony survives the winter and is numerous enough, she will swarm out next year together with half of her daughters and search for a new nest, just as her own mother did recently.

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