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Who’s Who: Meet Your Bee Colony

Learn about the different duties performed by each member of your bee colony.

You’ve heard the phrase “busy bee” many times, but have you ever stopped to think how busy a bee colony is? Now that you’re starting your own beekeeping hive, it’s best to know what roles the bees play.

Bee Colony Member: Queen Bee

Who's Who: Meet Your Bee Colony
In a colony of bees there are certain roles each bee plays. Learn here how all of these different bees work together in a colony.

Presenting Her Majesty the Queen! The queen bee is the only adult, mated female that lives in the hive. She is the mother of most, if not all of the bees of her hive. Her job was specially selected by worker bees when she was a larvae. The worker bees specially fed her royal jelly, in order to become sexually mature. The queen’s job is to mate with male drone bees and to reproduce. If the queen is mated by the drones and well fed by the worker bees, she can lay about 1,500 eggs a day. The queen bee is also able to select the sex of egg she lays.

If the queen bee dies or is not producing enough eggs, the worker bees then must replace her. This is known as “supersedure”. A beekeeper can force supersedure by clipping one of the queen’s middle or posterior legs. This alerts the worker bees to begin choosing a new queen bee from one of the laid larvae by feeding it royal jelly. Learn more about replacing your queen with our article on requeening your hive.

There are several tools a beekeeper can use for identifying and sometimes excluding the queen bee from the larger drones when inspecting a hive or extracting honey.

Bee Colony Member: Worker Bee

Worker bees are female bees that lack the full reproductive capacity of a queen bee. While all bees of the hives are busy workers, the worker bees are the ones with the longest resume:

  • Sealing honey tightly with beeswax to prevent moisture absorption.
  • Feeding younger drone bees.
  • Attending to the Queen Bee by grooming and feeding her. They also spread the queen’s special pheromone to other worker bees throughout the hive.
  • Honeycomb building.
  • Packing pollen into the honeycomb to feed the brood.
  • Mortuary duties: When bees and larvae die they must be removed from the hive to prevent disease and to allow cells to be reused.
  • Heating and cooling: When the hive becomes overheated for the bees, worker bees will fly out of the hive to obtain water and bring it back to spread on the backs of fanning bees. This fanning directs airflow in or out of the hive depending on the need.
  • Guarding the hive, several guard bees will stay in front of the hive entrance, defending it from invaders such as wasps.
  • Once a worker bee reaches 22 to 42 days old they will start to scout and forage, traveling up to 1.5 miles, nectar and pollen.

Bee Colony Member: Drone Bee

The drone bee is a male honey bee that is the product of an unfertilized egg. The male drone bee does not have a stinger like his sister worker bees and they do not collect pollen or nectar. The male’s one purpose is to drift from hive to hive, to mate with a queen bee. Once the male has mated with a queen bee he dies shortly afterwards, having fulfilling his purpose.

Now that you have met all of the bees in your hive you are ready to get started! You’ll find all the beekeeping supplies you need to take the best care of your beehive.

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