Frequently Asked Questions
Why does Africa need to rear queen honeybees?

Much of the world’s food production depends on honeybees for pollination. With the global population expected to grow by another two billion people by 2050 – and the majority of that growth in Africa – managed pollination services will be key to safeguarding food supplies and increasing food production. Additionally, over 70 percent of what people eat every day is pollinated by honeybees: without them, the current system of food production would suffer major declines.

Healthy queen bees help to reproduce colonies that carry desirable traits such as resistance to pests and diseases, high levels of honey productivity and effective pollination capabilities. Queen bee rearing replaces queens that are failing or have died, increases colony numbers, and re-queens hives that have become aggressive, so that future bee progeny are more docile for beekeepers to manage.

What are queen bees and how are they replaced naturally?

A queen is larger than a worker bee, having a pea- sized thorax and a long, tapered abdomen. Unlike worker bees, her reproductive organs are fully functional. Six to ten days after emerging from her cell, she mates in flight with 10–15 drones. A mature queen may lay up to 2000 eggs per day, but usually averages 700–1000. Although she can live for up to five years, under commercial conditions, a queen is usually replaced every one or two seasons to ensure vigour, which translates into colony health.

A wild or domesticated colony of bees will raise queen bees in three circumstances: to replace a queen that has died (emergency) or an old or failing queen (supersedure), and as it prepares to swarm for reproduction, when the old queen will leave with as much as 60 percent of the bees in the hive to create a new colony.

When rearing queens, beekeepers will manipulate a colony to duplicate one of these three natural circumstances.

What is queen rearing?

Queen rearing is a process of raising honeybee queen cells that uses an existing queenless or a queenright (with a queen) colony. It encourages the reproduction of queens with characteristics that help bees to thrive in specific climatic and geographic conditions. So far, icipe has been working a good deal with Apis mellifera scutellata and Apis mellifera bandasii, two honeybee subspecies that are excellent honey producers in the plains and highlands across East Africa.

What are the benefits of queen rearing?
  • Beekeepers can multiply colony numbers and make more money
  • Honey productivity improves through reduced swarming, which maintains the strength of the apiary for the next flowering season. When a hive swarms, the old queen leaves with bees from the hive to create a new colony, depleting hive numbers
  • An unproductive, failing queen is replaced with a mated queen bee, which can reproduce ‘on demand’ according to the colony’s requirements
  • The risk of introducing pests and diseases into the apiary is reduced, and quality is controlled
  • Bee colonies can be raised that have desired characteristics – such as less aggressive bees, high productivity of honey and royal jelly, and robust pollination services.
What are the current research questions on the Queen Bee?
  • What is the estimated monetary value of queen rearing?
  • What is the impact of queen rearing on beekeeping?
  • How are communities benefiting from queen rearing?
  • What is the precise impact of queen replacement on aggressiveness, pest and diseases,
    and honey production?
What is the impact of rearing Queen Honey Bees?
  • Increased honey productivity, agricultural and rural growth, and income generation
  • Enhanced capacity and income among beekeepers
  • Development of hive management strategies
  • Foundations laid for a bee-breeding programme to develop a commercial stock of bees, and for the incorporation of this knowledge into national development strategies and policies