The Queen Lays an Egg

The Queen and her retinue, photo by MaryEllen Kirkpatrick
The Queen and her retinue, photo by MaryEllen Kirkpatrick

It’s always fascinating to watch the Queen Bee at work, laying more than 1,000 eggs a day. She’s picky about her nursery, ambling along the honeycomb and inspecting each hexagon cell to make sure it’s clean, air-tight and worthy of her offspring.

She reminds me of a duck nibbling something underwater, sticking her head in the cell so just her butt remains visible. When she finds a space to her liking, she squats and puts her long abdomen inside, lays and egg, and then does a pushup with her long legs to exit.

Watch her lay an egg below. 

The Queen is an egg-laying machine, in constant motion. But I took the few seconds when she was still, laying her egg, to mark her with a small dot of blue paint. This helps me find her more easily during hive inspections, and also helps me know important things, such as whether she has been overthrown. Each year beekeepers use a different color for the Queen. In 2015, her heiness wears royal blue.

Springing the Queen


It’s been three days since we installed four new beehives at Little City Gardens in San Francisco – enough time for each colony to start foraging in the tall fennel and blackberry vines and become accustomed to the scent of their new Queen. So we returned to the bee yard to release the Majesties from their confines. Rather than jabbing the cork plug of her cage and pulling to release her, which might unintentionally injure her, we pried open the staple and screen from the side of her cage and let her amble out. Here’s a video of the process; listen closely and toward the end you can hear the Queen “pipe” — make a squeak to announce her arrival. It’s like a bee version of, “Yo!”


I prefer “controlled release” because you know for sure the queen is healthy and the bees like her before she’s let go. Putting a sugar plug or marshmallow plug in her cage isn’t as secure, because if you show up to an empty cage after the bees chew through the sugar, you’re never certain if they ate through it too fast and killed her, or if she died in the cage and the bees flew off with her to dispose of her far from the hive. You’ll discover it eventually when no eggs appear, but by then you’ve lost precious time to correct the situation.

Next up: We return in five days to look for eggs in the honeycomb. To know The Lady Doth Bear Fruit.