A queen bee is usually the only egg-laying member in a hive of bees. Though worker bees can lay eggs as well, they generally only do so if there is no queen. The queen bee does not exert any power over a hive of bees, and uses any power she has to defeat challenger virgin queens that develop during her reign of one to two years.
The queen develops differently than the drone bees of a colony. Before hatching, she develops in what is called a queen cell. She is also fed differently, receiving royal jelly, a secretion made on the tops of young bee’s heads. Since the queen is fed royal jelly exclusively, she develops full sexual characteristics not present in drone bees.
It is easy to recognize a queen bee outside a hive because her body is far more elongated than that of the other bees in the colony. She will also remain in the hive after mating with several drones, and her most important job is keeping the colony alive by laying eggs. The queen is the only member of the hive able to lay eggs, and a health one can lay about 2,000 a day. A hive that loses its queen and does not have a replacement will quickly die off.
Survival of a single queen means great danger to the hive. The queen bee must leave the hive and mate with drones in order to keep reproducing eggs. If, for any reason, this mating process is stopped, such as because of extremely poor weather, then the hive is doomed.
Usually, the single queen bee leaves the hive when the bees swarm, which for most bees is once yearly. Only the African hybrid or "killer bee" swarms on a more consistent basis. The African bee is the only bee to be able to produce eggs from other than a queen, ensuring their dominance as a species in an already competitive bee world.
The queen also secures her dominance by secreting a substance that other bees lick off of her. This substance suppresses growth, so other bees do not become sexually mature. In some cases, where several queens exist within a hive, one will leave during the swarm to establish another colony. Particularly if she is a little older, she may prefer a less competitive hive, since for a while she will be free from assassination attempts by other queens.
The road to monarchy for the queen bee resembles some of the monarchies of the past. Emerging queens must sting and kill an existing queen in order to take over a hive. They also must eliminate their competition of other virgin queens emerging at the same time. This is somewhat reminiscent of the wars of succession in the monarchies of Europe, only usually it is the prospecting queen who must commit each assassination. This process is called supersedure.
In captive bee populations, bee farmers may shortcut the process of supersedure by removing a queen from the population or by cutting of one her back legs, which makes egg laying impossible. This gives virgin queens the opportunity to quickly attack and supersede her.