We’ve talked about how we take our very best stock and raise our own lovely black queens, and when we last left off, the new Queen was emerging from her cell into her new hive. But obviously the story doesn’t stop there. For all this time and energy expended to be worthwhile, said Queen must mate with drones, or male bees, and then return to her hive and lay healthy eggs to create a strong hive, one that can handle the extreme temperatures of life on the Canadian/Glacier Park border and the monsoons of northern California.

So, we’re going to have a literal talk about the birds and the bees. Minus the birds.

On a day of about 70 degrees or warmer, the virgin Queen will take to the sky for her Mating Flight. The Queen does not fly well and does not fly often — she may never leave the hive again after mating. While she is high in the air, she will engage in beautiful flight dances with various drones that indicate a mutual willingness to mate. Ideally, the Queen will mate with at least 10 drones. In her abdomen, the Queen has a special organ called the spermatheca, which holds the sperm from each drone. She will use this sperm over the course of her lifetime as she lays eggs, so it is important that she is “well mated,” or mated with many drones. If she is not well mated, or mated at all, then she will be unable to produce healthy brood, and is worthless to the hive and to the beekeeper.

How do we know if she is well mated? After a week or so, it is time to check through all 1,000 hives again and visually inspect the frames for eggs/brood with our own beady little eyes! I told y’all that this requeening process, while vital, is highly time consuming.

Very occasionally, if a beekeeper gets really lucky, s/he will actually see what is called “mating sign” or “the ribbon.” This looks like a white strip emerging from the Queen’s abdomen. You see, after mating with The Queen, the drone bee leaves his penis inside her. And if you happen to see the Queen just after she returns from mating, you can see it. Perhaps this is all a bit scientific and technical, etc, but to see this sight, especially if you are not a commercial queen breeder — and we are not — is pretty exciting.

We took lots of pictures when it happened to us earlier this month:

Do you see the white ribbon emerging from the rear end of the Queen?

Here’s another shot. Bees are so hard to photograph, always buzzing about!

Pretty funny, what gets a beekeeper … excited. Hardy har har.

And now, kiddos, after all these years of talking about the birds and the bees, you are actually in the know. About the bees, anyway. You’re welcome. Public education and entertainment, always our mission at Glacier County Honey Co.

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