It’s always exciting to see the queen when inspecting a hive. It’s particularly exciting to see a new queen emerge from her queen cell for the first time! The birth of a new queen! I was fortunate to witness this recently. I opened one of my hives for a usual inspection and found multiple queen cells – this is generally a sign that the hive is about to swarm or that the existing queen is being replaced because she is dead or injured. I also noticed a newly born queen already walking around so I decided to do something I normally wouldn’t do – cut open one of the queen cells that was about to emerge to see what a brand new queen looks like.
I decided to do this since I wasn’t risking the hive becoming queenless – there was already a new queen walking around. And, as biology will have it, that new queen would likely have killed these about-to-be-born queens anyway. So I took the tip of my hive tool and gently cut along the bottom half of the queen cell. I could see that the queen inside was fully developed and she started to wiggle herself out of the opening. I removed her from the hive entirely and put her in my queen-catcher to capture these photos.
It’s hard to truly compare her size to a worker bee since there aren’t any in this photo. But, she is slightly larger than a worker bee. All her little hairs look as if they are wet and flattened against her thorax. These will diminish over time leaving a much shinier hair-free thorax (one of the key indicators of a queen versus the other bees). Her abdomen is still fairly small. It’s larger than a worker’s, but smaller than it will become after she mates. An organ in her abdomen (called a spermatheca) will become filled with drone sperm that she will hold onto for the remainder of her life so that she can lay an egg and fertilize it! Pretty cool.
After watching her for a few minutes I returned her back to the hive. Chances are the slightly older new queen, who is stronger from exercise, will kill this new queen. But who knows… I’ll let nature take its course. I inspected this hive a few weeks later to find plenty of eggs, so I know one of these queens survived!
Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!