They are the center of every hive but a shortage of queen bees across the country makes it difficult for beekeepers to rebuild and increase the number of their hives.
The main point:
- Queen bees are very important to beehives because they are the only bees capable of laying eggs
- If the old queen bee cannot be replaced by a younger one, the honey production will decrease
- The demand for bee pollination services puts additional pressure on beekeepers
While the demand for beehives and pollination services have skyrocketedThe number of commercial queen beekeepers in Australia has shrunk over the past 20 years, causing some beekeepers to struggle to find new queens.
The queen bee is very important to every hive because it is the only bee capable of laying fertilized eggs.
While the young queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day and more than one million in her lifetime, decreased reproductive function with age.
Australian Honey Bee Industry Council Chair Trevor Weatherhead said there was a real need for more beekeepers to enter the queen bee farming business.
“But if there is no younger queen bee to replace him, then honey production from beekeepers will go down.”
Apart from needing them for good honey production, young queen bees are also very important for beekeepers who wish to increase the number of hives.
South Australian Apiaris Association president Joshua Kennett said many beekeepers were looking for queens to rebuild their hives.
The dying art of the queen bee captivity
Riverland beekeeper Kerry Chambers recently started queen beekeeping to expand his business and to support other beekeepers.
But he admits that grafting queens isn’t easy, and his first experiences have been stressful.
“Grafting is the hardest part, you have to remove the skeleton containing the day-old larvae,” he said.
“You must have good eyesight and steady hands.”
But despite some challenges, he believes there are many benefits to raising a queen.
“Having queens is a way of increasing the number of nests quickly,” said Chambers.
“You can take a few frames from an existing hive, put them in a new nest and put the queen with them and then you have another colony right away.
“I want to keep a queen to have a queen if something happens to my established hive and I don’t have to lose productivity, but also to help other beekeepers.”
Mr Weatherhead, who has been raising queen bees for 24 years, believes that the precise time constraints and complex work of transplanting bees are among the reasons stopping people from breeding queens.
“It’s a very meticulous job that has to be done on time.”
The demand for pollination puts pressure on beekeepers
That requirements for more bees pollinating newly planted fruit and nut trees for food production across the country puts additional pressure on beekeepers to expand their hive numbers.
But Mr Kennett thinks it has also led to a change in beekeeping practices because beehives have to be very strong for pollination.
Estimated a third of crops in Australia depend on bee pollination.
Last year there were an estimated 227,000 beehives or more than 9 billion bees transported to Victoria alone to pollinate almond trees.
Mr Kennett explains that means many beekeepers are focused on rapidly increasing the number of hives.
“There’s a lot more pollination going on, so we seem to be trying to replace more queens to make sure that the queen in each hive is the best we can get.”