Bee hives are a matriarchal society in which the queen bee lays and controls all the other bees with distinct and precise pheromone triggers. The health, temperament and productivity of a hive are directly related to the queen. All the female worker bees in the colony are her offspring or sisters. Drones (male bees) in a hive are also offspring of the queen, except around swarming time when drones from other hives can be allowed in the hive to wait till the new queen is ready to mate.
The queen bee is mated once in her life and is inseminated enough to lay between 400-800 eggs a day. The mating happens on the wing. When a queen bee is ready to be mated she flies straight up into the air, up to hundreds of metres high. As she does this all the drones will follow her and try to couple with her. This allows the strongest drones to mate hence maintaining a strong gene pool. Once she has mated, the queen will then get some bees together and swarm off to find a new home and create a new colony. Sometimes the old queen will bequeath the colony to the new queen. Queens can live up to 5 years, but it is recommended that bee keepers re queen every two or so years to maintain a vigorous queen.
The re-queening process is done in the commercial beekeeping world nearly once a year. This has meant that a huge market has developed in the artificial insemination of queens to create placid hard working bees for the industry. This is one way of retaining the bee numbers in the CCD- affected regions of the world, and to over come a short fall in bee production which is needed to produce millions of dollars worth of food crops each year. Although the artificial process focuses on maintaining genetic diversity, I believe that it is better to let the queens mate naturally.
The process of queen grafting is a good method which can be learnt by any beekeeper to produce their own queens. This is done by grafting a few day old larvae into a special cell and growing them in a nursery hive till they are ready. Then they are moved to a box without a queen. The new queen is in a “queen cage” for a few days as her scent is accepted by the other worker bees then she is let out to be the queen of the new colony. www.depi.vic.gov.au