First off, we’re talking about this kind of Queen Bee:
Not this kind:
But when you get right down to it, they’re pretty similar. Both have striking features, they’re known to fight lesser creatures who threaten their social status, and they’re both bad bitches. Nobody ever said life on top was easy.
Being the biggest and slowest bee of them all, work starts early in the spring for the lethargic queen bumblebee, who is quite hungry as she’s been hibernating since the past summer. When the first flowers and bulbs begin to push their way through the soil, the queen ends her winter-long nap, feeds on these early-bloomers and starts to search for a new nest.
But before we get too deep into colony life, let’s take a moment for some trivia: Darwin originally called these guys “humblebees” because of the humming noise they make when they fly. It wasn’t until World Wars One and Two—when sleek, streamlined planes became mainstream—that the name bumblebee rose to prominence. These cruisers made the insect look bumbling and confused by comparison.
Anyway, the queen will bumble from place to place until she finds the perfect location for her home, which is usually an abandoned rodent burrow or a protected spot under a garden shed. Even a pile of old, dead leaves will do. Unlike honey bees, bumblebees build a new nest annually, and they generally build their nests in the ground.
After the queen has found her prime piece of real estate, she collects enough nectar and pollen from early bulbs and flowers to produce a ball of pollen and wax. The queen, having shacked up with her mate the previous summer, lays about six eggs in it at a time. The eggs hatch, and the resulting grubs attempt to fight through their pollen protectors.
This process can take up to twenty-one days, because the queen will keep adding pollen and wax to keep the grubs inside until they have developed enough. At that time, the queen spins a fine silk cocoon for each grub. When they finally emerge a few days later, they are fully developed worker bees, and ready to help build the nest. A worker bee is always female, and the queen’s eggs must be fertilized for a female bee to hatch. Male bees, or drones, are the product of unfertilized eggs, but more on them later.