*Queen Bee – A hive contains just one queen bee who lives on average three or four years. Her role is very specific and unwavering which is to mate and lay eggs. She is somewhat larger than the other bees and has a longer abdomen. She also has shorter wings than the others which cover about two-thirds of the length of her abdomen when folded. She has a long stinger but with fewer barbs than those of the worker bees.
The queen only makes one flight when she leaves the hive as a virgin queen. In this time drone bees are attracted to her and mate with her during the flight, depositing several million sperm cells. That’s enough to last her lifetime. The rest of her life is spent inside the hive (unless conditions become overcrowded because of a growing population, in which case she will swarm, taking part of the colony with her). It’s just too risky outside the hive and she’s too important to the well-being of the colony. Her genetics, along with those of the drones she mated with, determine the quality and temperament of the colony as a whole.
A fertile queen bee can lay more than her own weight in eggs each day (up to 2,000 or one every 20 seconds). You might say that she is an egg laying machine. This role is vital to the continued existence of all the bees.
Because the presence of a healthy laying queen is so essential to a colony, it’s very important for beekeepers to be able to find and recognize the queen. Often the queen is marked to make her easier to spot.
*Worker Bees – The worker bee is a non-fertile female. She cannot produce like the queen bee. She’s also the busiest bee in the hive. The worker bee takes on many different roles throughout her life. Most colonies have 30,000 to 80,000 female worker bees.
Their first role in life is as nurse bees. The first few days of a young adult worker bee is devoted to looking after the brood. Tasks include preparing brood cells and feeding larvae with a mixture of honey and pollen. After about three days
special glands on the head of the worker become active and secrete a milky substance known as royal jelly. This is a very nourishing liquid fed mostly to the larva of future queen bees and to adult queens. Other bees are only fed small amounts of royal jelly. The nurse bees are also responsible for maintaining the temperature of the brood at a steady 95°F. If the temperature drops, the bees huddle together to generate body heat, and if it gets too hot, they deposit water drops around the hive, then fan the air with their wings to cool the hive by evaporation.
Next comes the care taking role of the worker bee. This involves cleaning debris from the interior of the hive and building and repairing wax comb. This role usually lasts about one week. During this time, they may also take on guard duties at the entrance to the hive.
The final role of the worker bee is foraging. Worker bees forage for nectar, pollen, water and plant resins which bees use to make propolis (also known as bee glue, this is used to seal up gaps in the hive). Foragers make ten or more round trips each day from hive to blossoms; some are dedicated pollen foragers and others are nectar foragers. A foraging bee visits fifty to one hundred flowers on every collection trip it makes from hive to blossoms.
Foraging is the final phase of a worker bees’ life. Bees usually die in the field during foraging duties. The length of time they spend foraging will depend on the amount of energy they spend. If foraging sources are close to the hive, then a worker bee can go on foraging for anything between 15 and 38 days. In the winter, when activity slows down completely the worker bee can live as long as 140 days! A typical life span is about 4 to 6 months.
*Drones – Drones are the laziest bees in the colony. The only thing they have on their minds is finding a virgin queen to mate with! Their only role is to produce.
These male bees are bigger in size than worker bees and have bigger compound eyes and large muscular wings. They also have no stinger.
Males are created when the queen comes across a larger drone cell, and when laying the egg, she doesn’t fertilize it. This results in the drone. At first, drone bees are fed by the nurse bees, but as they grow older, they help themselves to honey directly from the hive.
It is believed that the presence of drones in the hive is reassuring to the rest of the colony. If the queen needs replacing, the drones are ready and eager to perform the task. A bee colony consists of several hundred male drones.
The life of a drone bee is short, but sweet, lasting only about 3 months. Because drones don’t know how to forage, they sometimes die of starvation.
Drones also make good decoys to protect the queen bee during mating flights. With only one queen, a few drones eaten by predators isn’t important. Drones are expendable.
And, sadly, for the drones who succeed in mating with the queen the end is near. During the process of mating with the queen, the drone’s abdomen is ripped off and the bee dies. How honorable that a life is given for the good of the colony!
Types of Honey
Top to bottom: Liquid Honey, Comb Honey or Honeycomb, Chunk Honey, Crystallized or Creamed Honey and Flavored or Infused Honey
Liquid Honey is the most popular. This is the honey that is extracted from the honeycomb by spinning in a centrifuge or by relying on gravity to drain it from a honey-comb filled frame in a box-style bee house. Many beekeepers or honey connoisseurs believe this is the freshest honey as it still in it’s original state, exactly as the honeybees made it. Raw honey contains natural pollen form the blossoms and some trace minerals.
Comb Honey, Honeycomb or Section Honey is till in its original hexagonally shaped was containers produced with wax that has been excreted by bees. Some consider this to be the jewel of the the beehive. Honey in the comp is uniquely delicate and light because it still inside the was where the bees stored it. A perfect honeycomb specimen has no uncapped cell, dry holes, drips (called weepings) or damage from bruising. It should appear smooth and consistent in color. Honeycomb can be round or square.
Chunk Honey is a chunk or piece of honeycomb floating in a jar of liquid honey. In a typical honey shallow, you’ll see it is possible to cut out three pieces of honeycomb that are four inches by four inches, leaving a narrow piece left over. This “extra” piece is what is reserved for chunk honey, leaving no part of the honey frame wasted. That piece should be placed inside the jar perfectly vertical with the beeswax cells pointing up from the center foundation piece. For consuming, you can choose to either pour the liquid honey out from around the comb or scoops out a chunk of the comb itself. Preferences aside, chunk honey is like the having the best of both worlds..
Crystallized or Creamed Honey is spreadable honey with a lovely granular texture that dissolves on the tongue. It is high in glucose which causes the honey to crystallize quickly. Most honey will crystallize over time. It is still perfectly good. With a unique quality of being both smooth and rough at the same time, many prefer it in this form. Crystallized honey appears creamy and almost opaque in color.
Flavored or Infused Honey is a mild-tasting honey that has flavors steeped or infused into it to enhance its natural flavor. Some interesting added flavorings are fruit flavors, herbs, spices or essential oils. Always check to see if the honey you are purchasing is the authentic varietal or an enhanced product with additives.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008
Honey Carrot Soup on the left.
Egg Salad Toast with Hot Honey Drizzle on the right.
Thank you Linda for this most enlightening article and wonderful pictures. I had no idea how complex the bee colony is and the purpose of each kind of bee. Amazing how God has made His unique creations!