The Bees in Your Hive: Your Guide to Queens, Drones, and Workers

Whether you’re a novice beekeeping hobbyist or an established commercial apiarist, it pays to know where your honey is coming from. As tempting as it may be to think that your job is just to provide the bee hive frames and then enjoy the honey once it’s ready, knowing the different bees in your hive is fundamental to beekeeping.  

You’ve likely heard of the queen bee, workers and drones, but do you know what makes them different? What are their different roles within the hive? Can you spot the differences just by looking at them? (You can!) Each bee serves a vital function within the hive and throughout the process that delivers honey to your taste buds. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of bees in your hive. 

The Queen Bee

Believe it or not, bees don’t know that they’re making honey for you – everything every bee does within your hive they do in service to their queen. The queen bee is a fertile female whose sole task is to keep the hive chock-full of new bees. Laying eggs keeps the queen busy – laying somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs almost every day! Everything else the queen bee needs is done for her. 

The role of the queen bee is a cutthroat one. Queen bees are created in the larval stage, when worker bees feed it with a protein-rich concoction called royal jelly. However, the first order of business for a new-born queen is to fight the old queen to the death, then exterminate any other infant or larvae queens. In order to maintain her grip on power, the queen bee constantly secretes a pheromone within the hive that sterilises all of the other females in the colony. 

The queen bee can be identified by its unusually large size and splayed legs.  

A queen, drone, and worker bee The drones

Drone bees, which are males born of unfertilised eggs, lead the shortest, simplest lives of all the bees in the hive. Drones have one job: to mate with the queen. They have no stinger and cannot collect pollen so they must be cared for by the worker bees. Although the queen will likely give birth to several drones in the spring and summer of every year, only about a half-dozen or so drones will ever be selected to mate with the queen.  

The drones penis is torn from his body during the mating process, so that the queen can store their sperm. This means that drones die when their job is done. Those who are spurned by the queen for mating are denied access to the hive’s food stocks by workers, driving them from the hive and starving them to death. 

Drones can be identified by their large eyes, which are necessary because the rather precise business of mating must be done in flight. 

The workers

Worker bees are sterile females. True to their names, the workers undertake most of the labour within the hive across all the hive components, collecting and storing nectar, building honeycomb, and preserving honey. They also collect water for the hive, remove dead bees and the queen’s excrementand protect the hive from invaders such as wasps and pesky beekeepers. The worker bees even maintain the temperature in the hive by distributing water and then fanning their wings to circulate evaporated moisture.  

Worker bees are the smallest in the hive and will be the vast majority of the hive’s population. 

Are you working for your bees?

Your bees work hard. Like humans, bees will go above and beyond to produce more than they need. If you provide them with the best apiary materials, they will always deliver. To set your hives up for success, contact Nuplas Apiarist Supplies today.