Beekeeping 101 – Workers, Queens, and Drones

Just as in the human world, the males are pretty much useless.

[captionpix imgsrc=”” captiontext=”Worker, Queen, and Drone” imgtitle=”Three Bees”]


This is the third installment about the Clean Slate Farm Apiary. Read more here.

In beekeeping the “beek” or beekeeper needs to monitor the activity in the hive to see if the queen is producing new bees. The beek is also on the look out for the queen. A bee hive is more than just a bunch of bees in a box. The three types of bees that live in the hive are: the queen, the worker, and the drone, each with specific duties.  Bee colonies work as complete units and without the proper number of each type of bee it will not survive. It is the female bee, or workers, who keep the whole thing going.

Take a look at the photo above and note the differences. The worker (on top) is smaller with smaller eyes. Note the size of the queen (in the middle), the slender body and how small her wings are in relationship to the body. That’s because they really don’t need them except to do a mating flight. The drone (on the bottom), or male bee, is larger, with larger eyes.

Queens are the leader of the colony and lay the eggs to keep the colony alive. A queen can live up to three to five years and will lay up to 2,000 eggs per day. Eggs develop for three days then turn into tiny larvae at which point worker bees begin feeding them. Workers will make thousands of trips to each egg daily to feed and care for them. The food is called royal jelly and for two to three days it is the same for worker and queen larvae. Its made from pollen and enzymes produced by the workers. If a larvae is going to be a queen bee it is continued to be fed on royal jelly. Workers will see a change in diet with the protein and enzyme content changing. Without the continuous feeding of royal jelly the bee will not develop reproductive and pheromone organs. Queens will be fully developed in about 16 days time.

Worker bees, all female by the way, are the ones responsible for feeding the larvae, foraging, and attending to the queen, making sure she is fed and healthy. Not only do they care for larvae, make the comb for honey and egg laying, clean the house, and care for the queen, they also guard the entrance to the hive and cluster in the cold weather to keep the queen and hive warm. As worker bees age their duties change and do pretty much everything to keep the hive living and prospering. There are roughly 100 female bees to one male bee.

The drones are all males and their responsibility is to mate with a queen and, well not much else. The can’t forage, can’t sting, and can’t even feed themselves.  Now lest you fellows out there start thinking, “Awesome. Mate and do nothing much useful sounds like a plan for me.” Once the drone mates his innards and…ahem…privates get ripped out and he falls to the ground to die. Yup, it’s a one shot deal boys. Wham, bam, thank you Sam. And come cold weather the girls start thinking the boys are taking up too much of the resources they get kicked out to starve or freeze. I’m sure there’s more than one woman out there who just got an idea.

Some fun facts:

  • In the summer a hive will  consist of 60,000 to 80,000 bees and 20,000 to 30,000 in winter.
  • A colony of bees will collect about 66 pounds of pollen in a year.
  • Worker bees live about 6 weeks during the summer but as long as nine months in the winter.
  • In the winter the worker bees cluster and “vibrate” to create heat in the hive, which will be maintained at about 93 degrees F.
  • A hive body full of comb and honey can weigh up to 60 pounds.
  • Bees will travel up to five miles to gather nectar and pollen.

(Thanks to Backyard Beekeepers for some of the facts.)

  • reply Vicky D'Agostino ,

    There is so much fodder in your excellent post for a commentary on the worth and productivity of women! I love that bees are a matriarchal society. Although I do like the yin and yang of having my husband and sons in my life, and can’t imagine life without the balance this brings. Thanks for educating your faithful readers on the inner world of beekeeping–it’s fascinating! I can only imagine the quips we’d have from the deck of the farm sipping cold chardonnay as we ruminate on the life of bees…!

    • reply Dave ,

      Agreed Vicky. No argument from this side.

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