Can queen bees fly?

The queen bee is the most essential member in the colony of these social insects because of her role in ensuring that the hive is adequately populated, laying one to two thousand eggs every day inside the hive for the rest of her life [1]

However, there are also a few instances when the queen bee will need to fly away from the hive.

Queen bees, like all other bees inside the hive, have wings and can fly. However, unlike most of her family, she rarely takes flight. On the few occasions when she will take flight, it will be because of either nuptial flights, swarming, absconding, or migration. 

Now let us learn more about queen bees and their flight.

What makes a queen bee queen?

The queen bee is unique from its birth. Unlike most bee larvae placed in the cell to become worker bees (female) and drone bees (males), the queen bee larva is placed in a particular cell called the ‘queen cup. [2]

Even her diet is unlike all the other bees. From the larval stage until maturity, she will have a special diet fit for a queen, commonly known as royal jelly. 

Once the queen bee is mature enough to lay eggs, she will go on a killing spree. Queen bees often kill the previous queen bee, then check other queen cups for other potential queens to kill them, ensuring that there is only one queen in the hive.

Once the new queen, she will only spread her wings to take flight on very few occasions. 

Can queen bees fly?

Like all other bees in the colony, queen bees also have two pairs of wings that they use for flying. However, her role as the main populator of the colony prevents her from leaving the hive and doing other bee tasks, aside from laying thousands of eggs every day for the rest of her life.

But if needed, she will flap her wings and fly outside the safety of the nest, but only for the following reasons.

1. Finding potential mates through nuptial flights

A newly emerged queen bee from its queen cup will come out as a virgin and need to fly out of the hive to mate. A queen bee will soon mate with up to 12 to 15 drone bees during flight. The duration and distance of this activity will vary depending on the species.

Though the queen bee’s mating season will only happen once, the sperm she collected can be stored during her lifetime. This way, she can focus on her job of laying thousands of eggs daily, and she will not need to leave the hive unless necessary.

The process of nuptial flight is crucial to the survival of the hive because if the queen bee is unable to fly due to whatever reason, she will not have enough sperm in her body to lay fertilized (female) larvae that will live to be worker bees or even a queen [3] which will be a bad scenario for the hive.

After the nuptial flight, the newly mated queen bee will start its own colony outside of its own. But in the case of honeybees, they will return to their original hive to continue the succession.

2. Swarming

Swarming happens when an existing hive becomes too populated and crowded that some bees decide it is time for the colony to split into two or more groups and transfer to another location. During swarming, worker bees, drones, and a queen bee will fly out of the current hive.

Depending on the bee specie, the rate of swarming will differ, but the Africanized honeybees tend to swarm more frequently than other honeybee species.

Since the queen bees are the largest bee in the colony, noticeable by their longer abdomen, there must be some preparation first. Before swarming, the worker bees will limit the queen bee’s food supply to slim her down to allow her to fly more efficiently [4]

Another preparation by worker bees before swarming is to make new queen cells where the current bee will lay eggs that will become potential queen bees and take over as the new queen of the hive through the process of supersedure.

3. Absconding

When bees abscond, all of the members of the hive, including the worker bees, drones, and the queen, permanently leave their existing hive.

There are several reasons why the whole colony will leave. It may be because of depleted food sources such as pollen and nectar from flowers which happens when their habitats are developed for human use.

Another reason for absconding is parasites, diseases infecting the hive, and other potential threats, including problems with the queen [4].

4. Migration

Another reason why a queen bee will likely fly out of its nest is during migration. In some areas, like in Thailand (Asia), it was discovered that colonies of giant honey bees migrate during the monsoon season [5]

The colonies will move between highlands and lowland nesting locations during the year to ensure they will not be in danger during typhoons and extreme weather conditions.

It has also been documented that migrating honeybee colonies, including the queen bee, will even set a temporary camp to serve as its stopover during migration.

Why can’t some queen bees fly?

There are several reasons a queen bee can’t fly – some are physical, genetic, and even man-made. However, a queen’s flying ability is crucial, especially in the wild, where the colony routinely swarms or transfers locations.

1. Their size and weight

Queen bees are the biggest bee in a colony because of their special responsibility of populating the hive by laying thousands of eggs each day. 

So, the main reason a queen bee can’t fly is her size. Their sheer size and weight, almost twice the size of the regular worker bees, make it harder for them to fly. This is also the reason why queen bees are forced to diet by the worker bees to prepare for their swarming, migration, or absconding.

2. Deformed wings

Queen bees can sometimes be born without a wing, deformed, or damaged due to various reasons like infestation and diseases. If this happens, the queen bee will fail to perform the nuptial flight even if she successfully kills off all other competitors to be the only queen bee around.

3. Clipping the wings

A common practice for some beekeepers is to clip the queen bee’s wings to prevent her from leaving the hive and control the colony. Beekeepers also cut one of the queen bee’s wings to mark them if they are born on an odd or even year.

Will a queen bee flies back to its original hive?

On the rare occasions when a queen bee flies out, the queen bee can either return to her original hive or establish her own.

1. After the nuptial flight

The nuptial flight is when a virgin queen bee flies out of the hive for the first time to mate with multiple drone bees and deposit their sperm that will be used throughout her life by laying eggs [7]. After this flight, the queen bee will return to her original hive to perform her duty of populating the hive.

2. After swarming

Once a queen bee, together with other bees, leaves its hive to swarm due to overcrowding and overpopulation, it will establish a new colony away from the original. They will not return to their original hive anymore.

3. After absconding

If the hive absconds for whatever reason, they will bring the whole colony, including the queen bee. If this happens, the colony will abandon its current hive to establish a new hive elsewhere. They will also not return to their original hive.

4. After migration

Migration often happens for various reasons, like avoiding bad weather or season. However, unlike swarming and absconding, bees that migrate will just go back and forth from their two or more hives. 


Though queen bees spend most of their time inside the hive and with their relatively larger size compared to all the bees, it may appear that they are unlikely to fly. However, in times of need or necessity, they will fly out of the hive.

In the limited times that a queen bee will go out of the hive, it will be primarily for finding mates that will deposit their sperm so the queen can lay fertilized eggs. Another reason for a queen bee to fly out is if they are going to swarm or move out from the original hive due to overpopulation and overcrowding. 

Finally, there may also be a time when the whole hive will abandon its hive to transfer to another area through absconding.


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