She’s worth more than her weight in gold! Hobby beekeepers can expect to pay around $32 each for mated replacement honey bee queens, not including shipping costs. A queen weighs roughly 200 mg, which means it takes around 140 queens to weigh one ounce. Based on these numbers, good quality honey bee queens cost approximately $4500 per ounce. With the current price of gold at approximately $1300 per ounce, a honey bee queen is actually worth more than three times her weight in gold. Now that’s some expensive livestock! And these numbers are for production queens. According to Mississippi State Extension Apiculture Specialist Dr. Jeff Harris, breeder queens, the specially bred queens commercial queen breeders use as the mothers for their production queens, can cost $200 to $800 each. Some queen breeders use artificial insemination to ensure their queens are bred to the drones they want them to be mated to.
Although queens are about twice as big as workers, they take less time to develop. It takes 21 days for workers to develop from egg to adult, but only 16 days for queens. What’s the difference? Royal jelly. All newly hatched honey bee larvae are fed royal jelly for the first three days of their life, before shifting to a mixture of honey and pollen, but larvae that are destined to become queens continue to be fed only large amounts of royal jelly for all 5 ½ days of their larval period. They are also reared in specially enlarged queen cells. After emerging, young queens leave the hive to take one or more mating flights. During these flights they will mate with 15 to 25 different drone bees and store six to seven million sperm in a special sac known as a spermatheca. She will use these sperm to fertilize all of the eggs she will lay for the remainder of her productive life, which can range from two to five years. During peak egg-laying periods a productive queen may lay as many as 2000 eggs per day. Queens have the ability to choose not to fertilize an egg, with unfertilized eggs developing into male or drone bees.
Honey bee queens don’t get out that often. Reproductive swarms occur when the old queen, accompanied by several thousand workers, leaves the hive in search of a place to start a new hive, leaving the old hive with a young queen that was specially raised by the colony to replace the old queen. Swarming is the natural process by which honey bee colonies reproduce.
Thanks to Dr. Jeff Harris, Extension Apiculture Specialist, for his assistance with this article.
Blake Layton, Extension Entomology Specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service.
The information given here is for educational purposes only. Always read and follow current label directions. Specific commercial products are mentioned as examples only and reference to specific products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended to other products that may also be suitable and appropriately labeled.