Any fertilized honey bee egg can become a queen bee. All larvae are fed royal jelly (a protein-rich substance secreted from a gland in the nurse bee’s head) for the first three days after the egg hatches. After 3 days, larvae chosen to become queens continue to be fed royal jelly while most female larvae start to be fed bee bread (a fermented mixture of pollen and honey) and will become worker bees.
The queen bee does not “run” the hive, but she does somewhat control the actions of the workers through the pheromones she excretes. Queens emit many pheromones that let the workers know she is present and healthy. When the levels of queen pheromones she gives off goes down, the workers will supercede her (i.e. make a new queen). The workers will also make a new queen if the queen dies suddenly or when they are going to swarm. Typically, a hive will make many new queens to ensure the successful raising of a queen, and the first queen to eclose will find the other new queens (sometimes still in their cells) and sting them to death.
There is usually only one queen in a hive. She is the largest bee because she has an abdomen full of eggs and sperm and is the only female able to lay fertilized eggs. A healthy queen can lay 3,000 eggs per day. About a week after emerging (eclosing), a virgin queen will leave the hive on one or more mating flights. On these flights she will mate with between 10 and 20 drones from other colonies. If the colony doesn't swarm, this is the only time the queen will ever leave the hive.
More information: https://extension.psu.edu/an-introduction-to-queen-honey-bee-development
Jen Haeger is a new master beekeeper and board member of A2B2.