Even though a queen bee is obviously different from the average worker bee, she maintains all the flying and navigational ability of a worker bee. This is important because virgin queen bees need to fly to be able to mate outside of the hive. A virgin queen bee will never mate inside of her own hive as she needs to take flight to mate. By mating during flight, a queen bee is able to increase the odds that she will mate with drones that did not originate from her own colony, and thereby minimize the chances of inbreeding appearing in the next generation.
After a series of orientation flights, a virgin queen bee sets out for mating somewhere between the 5th and 14th day after her emergence from her queen cell. From our experience, most of our Wildflower Meadows’ VSH-Italian queens usually mate on the 7th or 8th day after emergence.
A virgin queen does not necessarily take just one mating flight. Since she typically mates with up to 15 drones, sometimes she requires more than one mating flight to mate with the right number of drones. A queen bee’s individual mating flight lasts approximately five to thirty minutes, depending on how quickly she encounters drones, and on the weather. Warmer weather usually means that more drones are flying, so the queen may stay out flying longer if the conditions are favorable.
During a mating flight, a queen bee can fly a considerable distance depending on whether she is able to find drones with which to mate. Also, the drones themselves are flying between one to three miles from their hives to nearby drone congregation areas where they too are looking for queens. The queens can also theoretically fly about the same distance when looking for drones. In theory, that means that a drone can potentially mate with a queen that is 6 miles away! In actuality, however, on average, most mating flights occur within a mile of the virgin queen’s home colony. If a queen encounters a drone congregation area right away, the mating can take place very close to the queen’s home colony. If she cannot find drones, the queen can fly up to the maximum distance while out looking for drones.
Herein lies the answer to our question: How far does a queen bee fly to mate? It depends on how quickly she finds drones, or how quickly the drones find her!
At Wildflower Meadows, our number one focus is producing the highest quality VSH-Italian queen bees for sale. Accordingly, we think a lot about how to create the most ideal mating conditions for our virgin queens. That includes flooding mating areas with as many drones as possible. Our drone production colonies are usually spread about a mile apart in various directions from our mating yards. Our goal is to create a radius of drones around the virgin queens, so that they do not have to fly too far for mating. Our positioning strategy also ensures that our queens are most likely to mate with our own Wildflower Meadows’ drones of known optimum genetics.