For a person who is not very familiar with honey bees, all the bees look like the same. Most people have heard that a colony consists of bees and one queen and wherever the queen goes, other bees follow her. However, things are not that simple. There are three different types of bees in any colony with jobs, responsibility, life span, anatomy, biology entirely different from each other. In this post, I will describe each type generally without going into scientific details and jargon descriptions of their anatomies.
1. The Worker Bees
Honey bees live in colonies and each colony, on average, consists of 60,000 bees. This is an average number; it could be more or less. A healthy colony may contain even more than 100,000 bees at summer time. Most of these honey bees in the colony are female bees known as worker bees. They are called worker bees because they work hard all their lives. They perform a wide range of work till their death. Following are some of the rigorous jobs a worker bee does almost all her life.
- Caring for the young bees
- Feeding the young bees
- Gathering Nectar
- Gathering Water
- Gathering Propolis
- Making honey by converting nectar
- Making royal jelly
- Making beebread
- Producing Wax
- Keeping the hives cool by fanning their wings
- Ventilating the nest when required
- Defense from intruders by using their stings
- Building the comb
- Cleaning the comb
- Repairing the comb
- Feeding the queen
- Feeding the drones (male bess)
- Taking care of the queen and drones
The worker bees defend the colony as they are armed with straight and barbed stingers. The amazing thing is that the worker uses its stinger only once. After it stings the intruder, the stinger remains in the victim’s flesh. The abdomen of the worker is ripped and soon dies after it. They are a kind of suicide bombers.
Experts also believe that the worker bees can live for about 4 o 9 months in winter. They do not have to do a lot in winter so live a longer. However, when born in summer they are so busy and cannot live beyond 6 weeks. They are so hard working that they work themselves to death.
Although female, they cannot lay fertile eggs. They occasionally lay eggs which are infertile. Their life cycle goes through a complete metamorphosis. In the first stage they are eggs, then larva, then pupa and finally adult. The worker honey bees form 95% of the colony.
The worker bees do not mate because they do not develop sexually. These workers are amazing. They sacrifice everything for the sake of the colony. They sacrifice their sexual activity, their rest, and even their lives.
2. The Drones
The drones are the male members of the colony and they form around 5 percent of the total population. Drones do not have stinger and hence they cannot sting. The neither collect nectar, nor secrets jelly nor make honey. They do nothing except mating with the queen. The drones mate with the virgin queen bee if there is a need of a replacement or when the queen dies. The mating occurs in an area called drone mating area. This is outside the hive in the air during flight. Once they mate with the queen bee they die soon after it. The reason is that drones have a barbed sex organ and their body is torn apart after inserting their sexual organ into the queen bee.
Drones are well tolerated in the hives during summer because it is a mating season and they are needed for their job. When the mating season is over and it becomes cooler, they are nor more required. Workers bees have to feed them so they think them to be an expense and kick them out. An average life of the done is two months.
If a drone has a chance to mate with the queen, it dies after that. If a drone does not have a chance and winter approaches, he must die. The worker bees who earlier fed them with royal jelly cannot afford them anymore. They do not have the ability to defend themselves. Once they are kicked out, they perish.
The word drone is derived from the word dran in Old English. Literally, it means male honey bee. It also carries the meaning of idle, lazy or lazy worker. The name was most probably applied to the male bees because of their nature or inability to work. Women, food and drink are the only purpose of the drones.
3. The Queen Bee
Each colony has only one queen bee which is a little larger than the worker bee. Her only job is to mate and lay eggs. A queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs per day. She lays eggs of which are born workers bees, drones or queen bees. The eggs meant for queen bees are laid in larger cell. Larvae which shall become queens are fed royal jelly instead of ordinary beebread. May be the royal jelly is called so because it is fed to the would be royal queens.
Another interesting thing about a queen bee is that she never leaves the hives except for mating. Also, she is fed by the worker bees. Queen bees have stingers but they are not used to defend the colony. If there is a rivalry between queen bees to occupy a colony, they use their stingers against each other. The one who kills the other wins the battle and becomes the new queen. A queen bee can live up to five years.
Within the first or second week the queen bee takes her flight called nuptial flight. She flies away from the hive and produces a substance called pheromone. The drones are strongly attracted by the smell of the substance towards the queen. The drones follow the queen unless they are able to mate with her during the flight in the air. The queen mates with around 20 drones. The mating session lasts by each drone between 2 and 5 seconds. Soon after mating, each drone dies.
The queen returns to the hive and starts laying eggs. She can lay eggs in the cells made of beeswax built by the worker bees. She lays eggs which produces worker bees. The queen also lays some large eggs which produces the future queens. She also lays unfertilized eggs producing drones. The queen bee is cared for by the worker bees. They feed and defend her. They act live active attendants to serve the queen. A queen is replaced by a new queen after her death. If the worker bees are unable to find a queen, the colony perishes.