How a Bee Becomes Queen

(INTRO TUNE) Honey bees have a harsh caste system. Of
the tens of thousands of bees found in a hive just about all of them are female
workers and they do pretty much everything from cleaning and building
the hive, to collecting pollen and nectar. Their lives are so intense that while a
worker can live from four to nine months during the winter, a worker bee born in
the busy summer season will only last about six weeks before dying of
exhaustion. It’s not a whole lot better for the 300 to 3000 male drones who
basically hang around waiting to mate with the Queen during the summer after
which they die or are kicked out of the hive and when fall comes, and they are of no
more use. Then there’s that Queen. There’s one per hive and she can live to be up to five years old laying up to 2,000 eggs in a day. And she
owes her entire existence to a bitter protein-rich secretion called royal
jelly. Given their long life and unique position, there’s rarely a need for a new
queen, but when one dies or leaves the hive along with a swarm, the colony needs
to find a replacement and fast. In both situations, a larval bee is chosen to
become the new queen. The science of how and why this happens
isn’t entirely settled but one thing is certain, royal jelly plays a large role. Worker bees produce royal jelly from a
gland in their heads called the hypopharynx and feed it to newly hatched
honeybee larva. The milky-yellowish substance is made of digested pollen and
either honey or nectar. Not only is a high in protein but royal jelly also has
a combination of vitamins especially vitamin B plus lipids, sugars, hormones
and, minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. This bee “super-food”
also contains acetylcholine a neurotransmitter also found in humans.
It’s what nerves use to tell muscles to start or stop movement and may also
contribute to learning. All those nutrients might explain why royal jelly is often
marketed as an expensive, dietary supplement cure-all even though studies
haven’t been able to prove that it does anything too significant for humans. We are after all, not bees. But for bees, it
does a lot and around day three of the royal jelly diet is where things get
interesting. Worker bees will choose a few of the
larvae and continue to feed them royal jelly while every other larva is switched
to a less nutrient intensive diet of honey pollen and water. As the future
Queens gorge the royal jelly triggers other
phases of development that workers don’t experience like the formation of ovaries
for laying eggs. If one Queen emerges first she will search for and destroy
any other Queens still developing in their wax cells and if multiple Queens
come out simultaneously they will fight to the death until only one Queen
remains. We don’t know exactly how the worker
bees decide which larvae get the royal treatment but for a long time we thought
it was random. That would make sense because basically worker bees and queen
bees are genetically identical. But there’s some evidence that the selection of a
queen might not actually be so random. A 2011 study found that
the larvae of future Queens have higher levels of proteins that increase some
metabolic activities, so there may indeed be a tiny genetic
difference in the two that plays a huge role. Scientists are also still trying to
figure out what it is about the royal jelly that lets it change a larva’s whole
life. For a while we thought it might be a hormone in the jelly or the way it
affected insulin signals in the larvae then another 2011 study zeroed in on a
protein called ROYALACTIN which when isolated and combined with other
nutrients can transform larvae into queens just like royal jelly. Once they emerge Queens continue eating
royal jelly their entire lives and given that the Queen lives a lot longer than
the thousands of relatives around her, it sounds like a reasonable dietary
choice for a royal bee to make. Thank you for watching this SciShow dose which was
brought to you by our patrons on Patreon, if you want to help support the show you
can go to and if you want to keep getting smarter with us just go to and
subscribe (OUTRO MUSIC)


  1. Plant flowers that bees love and please stop using pesticides. And that round up is killing the bees as well as us. You can purchase good bugs like ladybugs and dragonflies if they don't dwell in your area. They're the natural predators that eat up those pesty, annoying, destructive bugs. Let's help our bees as much as we can because we need them!!

  2. Fighting n killing your siblings or relatives for the Queen position, then proceed to kill all the giy she have mate with just for the babies…Sounds like some drama I have recently watch…

  3. So if scientist just stole the other newly hatched bee queens then the first born won’t try to kill the other resting queens

  4. queen bee: i can live up to 5 years old!

    queen ant: hold my beer, i can live up to 30 years under the right conditions

  5. What if we give the whole hive royal jelly. If everyone is the queen then no one will be queen. All bees matter!

  6. Royal jelly is good for humans. Propolis and bee pollen is as well… bees are absolutely amazing… my mom has MS and bee sting therapy changed her life drastically for the better.

  7. Female worker:I do all the work around here while you just wait around for a mate

    Male drone: that doesn't mean you can KiCk Me OuT

  8. Glad I got this in my recommendation cause I touched a bee and I thought it was a moth and it felt like cicada she’d skin
    Next day I see it it chases m
    Me: time to go to back door

  9. I was hoping that when a queen bee dies they would line up and elect a bee. Like a full on election campaign to become Queen Bee

  10. Bees:Watches the video and hits like and comment good comments
    Wasps:Watches the video hits dislike and spams hate comments
    Hornets:Doesn’t watch the video and spam troll comments

  11. Not to be taken as a criticism but as an advice: Stop shaking your arms man

    Other than that the video is awesome and highly educational!

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