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Can Queen Bees Fly & When Does She Use Her Wings?

Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby that many people are interested in. 

But for a new bee enthusiast, it can be hard to know what appropriate behavior looks like.

Learning more about how bees work will help you identify problems and take care of your colony – and most importantly, how to take care of your queen bee.

This post will educate you on queen bees, and more specifically, how queen bees use (or don’t use) their wings.

Can Queen Bees Fly?

Yes, queen bees can fly, but they have their limitations. Because of the size and weight of the queen bee, she is not very good at flying. Prior to swarming, the worker bees will actually reduce the queen bee’s calorie intake, so she can lose weight.

A queen bee needs to lose about a third of her weight in order to fly properly. And even then, she can usually only fly short distances.

Virgin queen bees are very strong fliers. This is because they haven’t taken on weight yet, and since they’re young, their muscles will be stronger.

Related: How do bees fly?

queen bee close up

Do Queen Bees Have Wings?

Yes, queen bees have wings. A common misconception is that a queen bee doesn’t have any wings. However, this is false. A queen bee does in fact have a set of wings.

The purpose of the queen’s wing is to help her fly up into the air during the mating flight. When it’s mating season, she will fly out to mate with several drones (reproductive male bees).

The mating flight is crucial for the survival of a hive because only one out of every few thousand eggs become a queen bee; all other bees in a hive are either male or infertile female workers.

queen bee among swarm

Can Queen Bees Leave the Hive?

Yes, queen bees can leave the hive, but that doesn’t mean they will.

Queen bees can only leave the hive for very particular reasons. Queen bees will usually only leave the hive when it’s time for mating.

When it comes to young queens, who’ve just recently mated for the first time, they will leave the hive to find food for the first batch of workers. After this, the workers are in charge of finding food.

Because of this, she stays in her place – the center of the hive where it is warm and safe – and only leaves during the swarming season (when new queens are born). 

queen bee and hive

Do Queen Bees Ever Leave the Hive?

Yes, queens do leave the hive, but it happens very rarely.  

Some people claim that worker bees will not allow the queen to leave and attack her if she tries to go through their ranks. 

However, this is rarely true. Worker bees may become upset when the queen escapes. They will follow her, but they won’t directly block her path or stop her from leaving by force.

There are several reasons why a queen bee might leave her hive:

  • It’s overcrowded
  • It’s in danger or something is unstable within the hive
  • Bad sleeping arrangements

Overcrowded

If the beehive becomes overcrowded, or if the bees find it unsuitable or uncomfortable for some reason, the queen will leave, and workers will follow in a swarm.

When the hive is overcrowded, there might not be enough food for everyone, hence the queen knows that it’s time to part ways with the hive.

The bees that stay behind will produce a new queen to take over.

bee hive on a tree branch

Danger

If the queen recognizes that the hive might be in jeopardy, she may leave with a large portion of the bee colony to find somewhere safe to take up residence.

Queen bees release pheromones so that the other bees in the colony know where she is and what she is doing at all times. By using pheromones, workers can follow along with the queen’s movements and keep tabs on what kind of tasks she is involved with.

If she leaves, it signals that something big is going on, and usually, this means there’s a swarm of bees looking for a new place to live.

bee hive with yellow background

Bad sleeping arrangements

In some cases, however, it isn’t because of danger that the queen leaves. The quality of her sleeping arrangements can affect how often she decides to go out and seek a new place to stay. 

Queens with spacey combs filled with old wax will often abandon their hives all together because they cannot sleep well in these conditions.

Do Queen Bees Fly Alone?

No, queen bees do not fly alone. Since they’re responsible for reproduction, they’re too important for the colony to risk flying out alone. 

For established colonies, the queen bee will (usually) only fly when it’s time to swarm. When this happens, a swarm of worker bees will follow her.

When mating is done, an entourage of worker bees will be waiting to escort her back to the hive.

Why Do Queen Bees Leave the Hive?

Swarming

Swarming is defined as:

“Moving in or forming a large or dense group.”

For bees, swarming is the equivalent of reproducing.

When it’s time for swarming, the queen bee will fly off, splitting up the colony into two or more colonies. 

This can be due to an overcrowded hive, that can no longer contain all of the bees, or can’t produce enough food for everyone to stay healthy.

The queen will fly off with a swarm of worker bees. The bees that stay behind, will make sure a new queen is produced. This virgin queen bee will then fly off to mate and take over reproduction.

marked queen bee

When it’s time to mate

Queen bees will fly during mating season. Here, multiple queen bees and drones (male bees), will mate. Afterwards, the males will die off, and the queen will start her new colony.

The queens that mate the most, will start the most successful colonies.

Since drones can only mate 7-10 times, the queen bees have to mate with as many as possible during the mating flight.

How Far Can a Queen Bee Fly?

A queen can fly up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) away from her hive and at speeds of over 15 mph (24 kph). 

Her wings stroke about 230 beats per second when she flies and can beat as many as 14.000 times in one minute!

Related: How far do bees travel?

How Far Does a Queen Bee Fly to Mate?

A queen bee can fly very far to mate, but it really depends on how quickly they find drones to mate with. Reports have shown that they will fly as far as 6 miles (10 kilometers) to find a mate.

Queen bees will typically mate with 15 drones (anywhere between 6-24) [1]. If she can’t do all of this in one flight, mating will take place over several days. This means a queen could be flying more than 20 miles to complete her mating.

bees flying together around the flower

How Far Does a Queen Bee Travel When Swarming?

When a queen bee is about to swarm, she can fly up to 6 miles during the swarming process. However, most queens stay within half a mile of their hives when not flying with the swarm.

The hive can be buzzing with activity just before the swarm leaves, but once it does leave, there will be little activity around it until they choose another place to live. 

Mating: When a Virgin Queen Takes Flight

The first time a queen bee takes flight is when it’s mating for the first time. At this point, the queen will be a virgin, having never experienced the mating ritual before.

Due to evolution, all queen bees know how it works though, even if they haven’t done it before. These are the instincts of the queen bee.

When taking part in the mating flight, as discussed earlier, the queen bee will fly away from her hive in a quest to find drones. She will then collect the sperm from these drones, and she’ll use it to produce bees for the coming reproduction.

a bee flight

Virgin queens are very good at flying, as they may need to cover a lot of ground to find all of the drones they need to mate with.

Conclusion

Queen bees can fly, but they rarely do. In most cases, a queen bee will only take flight, when she needs to mate, or when she leaves the hive to start a new one. She’ll never fly alone, because of her royal status and importance to the survival of the colony.

Older queen bees are not as strong fliers as virgin queen bees. When older queens need to fly, the worker bees will restrict her calorie intake, to make sure she’s fit for flying.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.