Honey Bee Castes

Posted by @Mindy03 on
Like all organisms that live in a social culture, honey bees have different types of members. For honey bees it's a queen, drones and workers. Let's take a look at each group and see what makes them important to the survival of their colony.

Watching honey bees interact together is fascinating.  Who is making sure everything goes right in the hive?  Who's doing all the work needed to keep the colony safe and healthy?  A colony contains three types of bees; a queen, drones and worker bees.  Each one is important to the survial of the colony.  

The Queen

The word queen conjures up visions of a female ruler who tell2012-09-24/Mindy03/5dbca4s everyone else what to do. In the honey bee society she is nothing more than an egg laying bee; she doesn't even decide whether the colony needs more workers or drones or if it's time to lay queens. 

Her sole job is to produce brood and give off pheromones to assure the rest of the colony that all is well and everyone should work together for the good of the colony.  Before beekeepers were able to inspect a colony of bees the queen was thought to be a king.  

There is only one queen per colony and new queens are only born when the workers decide it's time to split the colony into two separate colonies or the old queen is aging, killed or failing to reproduce brood at a good rate.

During swarming season when new queens are born, the first to emerge from its cell goes searching for the other queen cells and kills the other queens. If two emerge at the same time they will fight each other until one is killed. The old queen goes with half of the colony and starts a new colony.

A queen emerges from her cell in 16 days. She is fed the same diet, rich in royal jelly, as a worker bee from days 1 to 3. After day 3 she continues to be fed royal jelly while the worker bee's diet is downgraded to honey and pollen only.

The royal jelly diet is what makes her the only sexually productive female in the colony; she will continue to be fed royal jelly for her entire life. She lays between 1500 and 2000 eggs per day, which is the equilivant of her body weight.

She is the largest of the bees in the colony. Her body is longer than the worker bee, her mandibles have sharp cutting teeth while her offspring are toothless. Her stinger is a curved, smooth weapon she can use repeatedly without endgangering her own life. Worker bees have a straight, barbed stinger and will die after using it. Young worker bees feed and groom her during her entire lifespan.

She lacks the working tools of pollen basket, beeswax glands and honey sacs. Once she has completed her mating flights she does not do any flying outside the hive until it's time to make a new colony during swarming season.

A queen can live up to 5 years but most beekeepers introduce new young queens into their hives after 2 years.


Work2012-09-24/Mindy03/87b215er bees are the bees you see on your flowers.  They do all the work of the colony to keep it healthy and safe.

The worker bees are the most numerous member of the colony; during peak growth in early summer there can be 80,000 or more worker bees. They are the smallest and hardest working bees in the colony.

Workers emerge from their cells in 21 days. They live six to eight weeks during the busy honey flow season and three to six months during winter in northern climates.  The honey bees you see on your flowers are aging worker bees.

Workers are infertile but have the ability to lay unfertilized eggs when the colony loses their queen. In spring and summer they comprise 98% of the colony; in northern wintertime they are the only members of the colony other than the queen.

They are the ones who do all the work in the hive. Their jobs range from construction, nurses, guards, handmaidens to the queen and drones, funeral directors, housekeepers, temperature controllors, food and water gatherers, and scouts. Whatever needs doing the workers do it except for laying fertile eggs and mating.  


A life of luxury, hanging out with the guys all day, a high speed c2012-09-24/Mindy03/139aedhase after a young queen who happens by.  Who wouldn't want to be a drone?  Apparently no one who knows anything about the downside of their lives.

Drones are the male bees in a colony. They are stingless, defenseless and lazy. They are smaller than the queen but larger than the worker. Their eyes are twice as large as either the queen's or worker's because they need good eyesight to spot a young queen on her mating flight.

Drones emerge from their cells in 24 days.Their primary purpose in the colony is to ensure the genetics of the colony survive by mating with a young queen. They mate during flight and immediately die afterwards because their sexual organ is left in the queen as proof that she was mated. They are said to be the laziest bees in the colony who will coax a worker into feeding them so they don't have to do it themselves.

During spring and summer a colony can consist of around 10% drones but come fall they are driven out of the hive to perish.  If they aren't killed by mating a queen or eaten by birds or other wildlife that like honey bees, a drone's lifespan is 90 days.

It's hard to decide which caste of honey bee is the most important because they are all important to the survival of the colony.  Without a queen laying eggs there would be no new bees after the old ones died.  Without the worker bees no food would be gathered, no work to make a safe and healthy home would be possible and some plants that depend on honey bees would not be pollinated.  Without the drones no female bees would be born.  


Source The Backyard Beekeeper

Comments and discussion:
Thread TitleLast ReplyReplies
Another great bee article by valleylynnOct 6, 2012 1:30 PM11

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