Queen Mating
Local Assembly Mating

In mid July last year I was attracted to the apiary hearing a loud buzz. I assumed that a swarm had emerged and was preparing to take it. However, there was no swarm but the loud buzzing continued. This was my first experience of a drone assembly in the vicinity of the apiary. I assumed at the time that a queen was up flying with the drones being mated but was not fortunate enough to see her return to her hive.

Apiary Vicinity Mating (AVM)

I have often seen a hive attacked by drones. Not literally, but the hive apparently comes under siege by many drones. I have assumed that they are attracted to a colony with a virgin queen and that the queen is ready to mate. The drones arrive at the hive to escort the queen on her mating flight. As a preliminary to the emergence of the virgin queen, some bees will appear around the entrance in a very agitated state. The queen will emerge also agitated, will run around before taking off to be mated. She will return within 30 minutes with the mating sign.
Mating Behaviours

Beowulf Cooper identifies three types of mating behaviour for the black bee:
1. Apiary Vicinity Mating
2. Local Assembly Mating
3. Distant Assembly Mating
In my own experience I have only found evidence of the first two of these.
Distant Assembly Mating

In a very interesting paper on the black bee published in 2005 the authors used DNA microsatellite markers to investigate the distance traveled by drones on mating flights in two adjacent but isolated valleys in the Peak District, Derbyshire, England. It was found that "90 % of the offspring resulted from mating distances of 7.5 km (4.6 miles) or less, and 50% of the offspring from mating distances of 2.5 km (1.5 miles) or less". It was further found that 20% of all mating were between queens and drone from the same apiary (Apiary Vicinity Mating). The maximum mating distance observed for one queen was 15 km (9.3 miles).
It is an interesting exercise to look on a map to find the area from which a foreign drone could be attracted to one's own apiary.
This link brings up a map onto which a circle of given radius is drawn. (Two circles may be drawn to look at any overlap between apiaries). Drag the map to your apiary and just follow the instructions given below the map.
not a black bee
The ability of drones to fly relatively long distances to mate might explain one surprising observation from a hive with a newly mated queen.

The image on the left shows some of the bees that this new queen was producing. Most were black as might be expected but some were seen with a very orange tergite resembling a Buckfast bee. I am not aware of any beekeeper in my immediate area keeping Buckfast bees, so could the queen have mated with a Buckfast drone which had flown into the area from a distance?
Next Page: Requeening
Polyandry

The multiple mating of the queen is directly related to the fitness of the colony. The greater the number of matings the greater is the genetic viability among the queen's worker offspring. (This was discussed in Genetics 6).

In the same study cited above, it was found that the average number of drones with which a queen mated was 10.2; the lowest number being 5 and the highest 14.
Thus on average each colony contained 20 sub-sets of worker bees. Each sub-set containing its own genetic mix.
Queen mating timetable

Whereas the timetable for the emergence of the queen is known accurately, a timetable for queen mating is more difficult to predict. Much depends on the weather. However, in the diagram below some approximate times are given.
4 days are suggested for the virgin queen to harden off before undertaking mating flights;
6 days are suggested for the mating flights although the time could be shorter or longer depending on the weather.
The queen will mate with an average of 10 drones (see the article cited below).
2 to 3 days after mating the queen starts to lay her first eggs (10 days after emergence);
18 days after emergence sealed brood might be seen; and the assessment of the new queen completed 26 days after emergence.
Altogether from the laying of the egg to the emergence of the queen and her final assessment after mating the time taken can be expected to be a minimum of 42 days (6 weeks).
Bearing in mind that queen rearing cannot start until the beginning of May when there is a plentiful supply of mature drones on the wing, then mid June is the earliest when new queens can be expected to be available after assessment.
queen development timetable
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