How does a bee colony develop?
A single honeybee colony can survive for years, seeing several generations of queens. A bumblebee colony must start anew every year. What all bee colonies have in common is that they begin with a queen.
A bee queen is not a queen by birth, but by rearing. What turns an otherwise ordinary young larva into a so-called virgin queen is a much larger helping of food, in particular, more royal jelly. Royal jelly is, like the food fed to the other larvae, a mixture of mostly honey and pollen, except it’s richer in honey and other goodies. This diet, coupled with the larger than normal chambers virgin queens are raised in, allows them to grow large and to grow quickly.
When a new queen emerges from her pupal chamber, she will soon venture out to mate. She’ll mate with several males and store millions of sperm in a special pouch. She will not mate again, because she has all the sperm she needs to last her lifetime. In fact, in the case of honeybees, if a colony’s queen runs out of sperm, she will be replaced with a virgin queen.
In the case of bumblebees, all but the new queens die off every fall. Each queen stores up lots of food and ventures out on her own to build a nest in which she will hibernate for the winter. When spring comes, with the help of the sperm she’s stored in her pouch, she will begin an entire colony all on her own.